A measles outbreak in Whistler and Pemberton has medical authorities encouraging those not vaccinated to get their shots in order to be protected against the virus.
Four measles cases have been confirmed in the communities and there are several suspected cases. No cases have yet been found in Squamish.
“We are advising everyone in Whistler and Pemberton to ensure they are fully immunized against this highly contagious infection,” said Dr. Paul Martiquet, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, in a release.
“Two doses of measles vaccine are highly effective at preventing measles. Most new cases occur in people who have had no or only one dose of the vaccine.”
In Canada one person in every 3,000 with measles dies from their infection.
Complications from measles include inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), seizures, deafness or brain damage. It is also highly infectious and can spread through the air when someone infected coughs or sneezes.
Children in B.C. born in or after 1994 routinely receive two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), one at 12 months then again before they start kindergarten.
Those born before 1994, or who grew up outside of B.C., may have received only one dose of the vaccine and require a second dose.
“Hundreds of thousands of people around the world contract measles every year. Whistler has many international visitors and residents who may not have had the same vaccinations as those from British Columbia, in some cases come from countries that are experiencing measles outbreaks,” said Martiquet.
Dr. Cathryn Zeglinski at Northlands Medical Clinic in Whistler said she had treated one suspected measles case on Thursday, July 12, adding that one of her colleagues had treated a confirmed case of measles in a restaurant worker that has led to others being monitored by health workers.
She believes that this outbreak and a mumps outbreak two years ago could be linked to a lower uptake of the MMR inoculation for children in recent years, with some parents linking the vaccine to autism.
“I’ve been a physician for 20 years and I’d never seen mumps until two years ago — who gets mumps? I’d never seen measles. Some parents have their own reasons for not vaccinating their children and I try not to judge, but this outbreak is scary,” Zeglinski said, adding that controversial studies suggesting an autism connection to the MMR jab had been discredited.
“They say they are making this choice for their children but they also make the choice for the wider society, and I don’t think they think about that.”
Zeglinski has fact sheets available to her patients on measles and vaccinations.
“You don’t have to be in close contact with someone to contract the infection,” Martiquet said. “You could spend just a few minutes in the same room as someone and get it, though the closer the contact, the higher the risk.”
People with measles are infectious before they develop the typical fever and red rash. The illness begins with a fever, red eyes, cough and a runny nose. Those who develop a fever and rash should isolate themselves and call their doctor’s office so that precautions can be taken to protect other patients before visiting the office.
Vaccinations are free to BC and non-BC residents from infants to adults, and are available in Whistler and Pemberton at the following locations:
Whistler Public Health office — Friday, July 12, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Monday, July 15, 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Shoppers Drug Mart, public health clinic — Saturday, July 13, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 14, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Pemberton Public Health Clinic, 1403 Portage Road — Monday, July 15, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Other locations can be found here: http://www.vch.ca/media/Measles-clinic-locations-Whistler-Squamish-Pemberton-area-July-2013-V2.pdf
For more information on the outbreak, visit www.vch.ca
More on the outbreak in the next issue of Pique Newsmagazine on Thursday, July 18 and at piquenewsmagazine.com