A second case of measles has been confirmed in the Vancouver area.
It was transmitted locally, meaning the patient was not infected while travelling abroad, Dr. Althea Hayden of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said at a news conference on Wednesday. She would not give details about the patient but said they are a school-age minor.
The other case, acquired abroad, was confirmed on Saturday but past the point of being infectious. Hayden said there is no clear link between the two cases. Her health authority’s region includes Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore and the Sunshine Coast.
“We are working very hard to find out how measles may have been introduced into our community,” she said. “We would be much less concerned about it if we knew exactly where it came from.”
The health authority last released a public measles alert in September, after an infected person attended the Skookum Festival.
Spokespeople at the Fraser, Interior, Island and Northern health authorities said Wednesday that they had not heard of any suspected or confirmed cases of the disease in their regions.
In the State of Washington, a surge in measles cases prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency on Jan. 25. As of Wednesday, 54 cases had been confirmed. Health officials are urging residents to get immunized. Four more cases have been confirmed in Oregon.
Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to Vancouver Coastal Health. Complications can include inflammation of the brain, convulsions, deafness, brain damage and even death.
Infection does not require close contact and measles can survive in close areas, such as a bathroom, for up to two hours after an infected person has left. It causes fever, red eyes, coughing, a runny nose and a rash. Most people recover within a week or two.
Measles is easily prevented through vaccination, which Vancouver Coastal Health recommends. People who have previously had the infection do not need immunization.
B.C. children born in or after 1994 routinely get two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, one dose when they turn a year old and another before they start kindergarten.
People born before 1994 or who grew up outside of B.C. may need a second dose. People born before 1970 are likely immune; but if they aren’t sure whether they have had the infection, they can safely get the MMR vaccine.
The World Health Organization named “vaccine hesitancy” one of its top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Measles saw a 30 per cent increase in cases globally between 2016 and 2017, and a resurgence in some countries that were close to eliminating it, according to the organization.
“The reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” according to the WHO. “Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.”
In Canada, immunizations are not mandatory. But Ontario and New Brunswick require proof of immunization for children and adolescents to attend school, according to Immunize Canada.
In the U.S., all 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that require children entering childcare or public schools to have certain vaccinations. All state laws provide medical exemptions, 17 states allow religious or medical exemptions only, and five states expressly exclude philosophical exemptions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control tracks child immunization and reports that 82.1 per cent of children aged seven had been immunized for measles in 2018, compared to 88.4 per cent in 2017 and 90.2 per cent in 2016.
Across Canada, only a single new case of laboratory-confirmed measles was reported between Dec. 30, 2018, and Jan. 26, 2019, according to Health Canada’s most recent measles and rubella monitoring reports.
The agency said there have been large measles outbreaks reported across Europe which have affected many countries.