Amid measles outbreak, doctors say likely only a matter of time before virus hits Vancouver Island

Amid measles outbreak, doctors say likely only a matter of time before virus hits Vancouver Island

WATCH: With 62 confirmed cases of the measles in Washington state they have declared a state of emergency and now in Vancouver, there are nine confirmed cases. So far, there none here on Vancouver Island but as Luisa Alvarez tells us, health professionals are bracing and expect the highly contagious disease will make its way here soon. Officials say getting immunized is the only way to stay safe. 

As an emergency room doctor at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, Dr. Bri Budlovsky is on the front lines, which means she can be exposed to measles if an infected person were to cough or sneeze near her.

Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t be a problem since she is immunized with the MMR vaccine but she is pregnant.

“In pregnancy, it’s not just you but the unborn baby. It’s teratogen which means it can harm the unborn baby,” said Dr. Budlovsky.

“It’s particularly frustrating and particularly freighting recognizing that this is something that is so preventable.”

The MMR vaccine is designed to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. The first dose is given at 12 months and the second dose is usually provided when the child starts kindergarten.

Langford mom Kristi Egan’s vaccinated her two-year-old son William as soon as he was eligible.

“Our family is a big firm believer in science and vaccinations and all the good they do,” said Egan.

Her husband had the measles as a young child but was OK thanks to the vaccine, Egan said. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, immunized individuals are far less likely to get measles, and even if they develop measles infection, are less likely to experience complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.

The efficacy of a single dose of measles vaccine given at 12 to 15 months of age is estimated to be between 85 per cent to 95 per cent. With a second dose, efficacy is almost 100%.

The measles virus is highly contagious and if exposed to the airborne disease, unvaccinated people have about a 90 per cent chance of contracting the measles.

“It’s not a benign childhood illness. It does have a very high rate of complication and in fact, about 30 per cent of healthy people who get measles will get one of the complications,” said Dr. Budlovsky.

Complications can include pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, deafness, seizures and even death.

But myths about vaccines have made some people refuse to immunize their children and health officials warn that is how outbreaks happen.

According to Vancouver Island Health Authority for the South Island, the average MMR compliance is 89 per cent. Central Island’s average compliance rate is 85 per cent and for the North Island, it’s 88 per cent.

Washington state declared a state of emergency after 62 confirmed cases of the measles and in Vancouver, there have already been nine.

Dr.Bonnie Henry the Provincial Health Officer says that number will likely rise.

“We expect that we will have more cases as I know there are a number of children under investigation,” said Dr.Henry.

Vancouver Island has had zero confirmed cases but Dr. Budlovsky says it’s just a matter of time.

“I think we are very likely to see it in the near future,” said Budlovsky.

She says hospitals are bracing for it and keeping suspected patients in isolation but it’s not always easy to detect.

“The issues with measles, in particular, is that people are contagious for five days before symptoms even show and when it does first show it looks like a common cold, fever, runny nose, cough,” said Budlovsky.

Stressing immunization is the only way to keep you and others safe.

Budlovski also says those born before 1994 should check with their family doctor or vaccine records because the second dose was not on the vaccine schedule before then.

Luisa AlvarezLuisa Alvarez

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