Measles is highly infectious and its complications can be fatal. (iStock)

Get vaccinated against measles, urges chief doctor

An outbreak of measles in the western province of British Columbia has prompted Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer to urge anyone who has not been inoculated against the disease to get vaccinated now.

Nine cases of measles have been diagnosed in Vancouver and 33 students and staff at two schools have been ordered to stay home because they cannot prove they have been vaccinated.

Measles outbreak in Philippines claims 136 lives

An outbreak of measles in the Philippines has claimed the lives of 136 people and the U.S. state of Washington has declared a state of emergency after an outbreak sickened more than 50 people in that region.

There is a misconception among some people that measles is not a serious disease. But that is wrong. It causes a very itchy red rash and complications can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, swelling of the brain, and they may be fatal.

In Canada, children get free vaccinations to protect them against measles and several other diseases. (iStock)

Internet is rife with false information about vaccinations, says doctor

Vaccinations to prevent measles, mumps and rubella are free in Canada, but there continues to be a small number of parents who incorrectly believe they are not safe.

“We…know that the majority of parents go online to get a lot of their health information as their first source,” says Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer, Toronto Public Health. “And we know if you go online to search for vaccines you guaranteed to find misinformation. And for a parent, it’s going to be really difficult for them to sift through what is correct and what is false.”

Dubey says if parents have doubts, they should talk to their pediatricians first.

But if they still want to search online, she urges them to go to trusted websites like the Public Health Agency of Canada or Toronto Public Health.

If an infected person sneezes in a room and leaves, someone entering the room up to two hours later can catch measles. (iStock)

‘Vaccination hesitancy’ declared a world health threat by UN

It’s estimated that between one and three per cent of people in Canada are steadfast anti-vaxxers. But what really worries Dubey is that there may be 20 per cent of people who have doubts about vaccinations. The United Nations’ World Health Organization has declared this “vaccination hesitancy” to be one of the top 10 health threats in the world. It says about 157,700 people died from measles in 2011 and measles is the leading killer of children whose deaths could have been prevented by vaccines.

While measles does not circulate freely in Canada, people who travel may bring it back into the country. And once here, it can spread very easily and rapidly. For example, if a person with measles sneezes or coughs and then leaves a room, an unvaccinated person entering the room up to two hours later can become infected.

Website teaches youth about immunization

The government of Canada ran a campaign in 2018 to remind people to get vaccinated. And a coalition of public health organizations in British Columbia have created a website to teach children and youth about immunisation.

The measles vaccine is highly effective. Experts say 90 to 95 per cent of people must be immunized to achieve herd immunity. Those who do not get inoculated put themselves at risk of catching the disease but also risk the health of others who have not been immunized. These include children who are too young for the vaccine, and people with health conditions such as cancer.

(photo: Toronto Public Health)

Dr. Vinita Dubey says measles is a serious disease, preventable through vaccination.

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