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Measles’ spread means it’s time to check immunization records

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 | 2:57 pm

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A small boy with measles. (Photo Wikipedia commons)

By John McDonald

Red measles, already confirmed in the Lower Mainland, has spread to the Interior Health Authority with the confirmation of three cases in the last 10 days, two of them presenting over the Easter weekend.

Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer for the Okanagan Health Service Area, said the three cases of measles were confirmed separately in a 25-year-old man in Vernon, a four-year-old boy in Williams Lake, and an adult in Lillooet.

“The last two cases have no travel history outside their community. That means to me we have measles spreading in at least some parts of Interior Health,” Parker said. “People who didn’t have immunity before, now they do have a reason to get immunized.”

Parker said B.C. Centre for Disease Control officials confirmed yesterday 23 cases of red measles in the province, including the latest two from Interior Health.

Because the two latest cases appear to be locally generated, Parker said the public health department has begun the laborious process of tracing all people who may have had contact with them. Extra staff have been called in to help with the effort.

“Unfortunately, this means we are going to have secondary cases,” Parker added.

Signs of red measles are fever, cough, red eyes, and a blotchy rash that starts on the head, neck or shoulders and then spreads to the entire body. Patients can be contagious up to four days before symptoms appear and up to five days after the tell-tale red rash shows up.

Most people with measles recover on their own, but one in 1,000 people with the measles develops encephalitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain that kills one in 3,000. Another common complication is pneumonia.

Parker said kids 12 and under and those 53 and older have either had the requisite two measles shots or have already had the disease, which provides its own immunity.

“Anybody of any age who has never had the measles is susceptible, but in terms of who we look at, between ages 32 and 53, that is the biggest risk group,” he said.

Interior Health is urging everyone who hasn’t received the required two measles vaccine shots or has never had the disease to do so at their local public health unit.

People who suspect they may have the virus that causes measles should call ahead to a doctor’s office or walk-in clinic and identify themselves as possibly being positive.

This allows staff to isolate the patient right away and prevent the spread of the highly-contagious airborne virus within waiting rooms.

Parker said the disease is reportable to the BCCDC and urges all health care professionals and the public to be alert for signs of the disease.

For more information, contact your local Interior Health public health unit.

john@kelowna.com

250-575-0521

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