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Canadian public health officials are getting the word out that due to the highly contagious nature of disease, an outbreak could happen here. Memories of hundreds of cases in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley in 2014 and in many regions in Quebec in 2011 are no doubt top of mind.
And while the new Canadian cases weren’t known to have been contracted via travel to areas with known measles outbreaks, it’s important to pay attention to travel alerts – especially considering winter school breaks are on the horizon.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is measles?
Yes, there’s that scary flat, red rash. But the first symptoms are actually a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes, according to the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A few days later, white spots may appear in the mouth. Then comes the rash, often spreading from the hairline downward across the whole body. After a few days, the fever and rash go away, according to the CDC.
Measles are highly contagious. It's spread through coughing and sneezing and via contaminated surfaces from four days before a rash appears to four days after.
“Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 per cent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected,” reports the CDC.
The disease was all but eradicated in North America in the last few decades, but it appears to be creeping back due to a combination of low vaccination rates in some communities and international travel to and from regions with low vaccination rates.
What’s the big deal?
There is no cure. In addition to ear infections and hearing loss, one worry is pneumonia, which can cause death. Another is swelling of the brain (encephalitis), which can lead to major disability or death. About one or two children out of 1,000 who get measles will die from it.
Should I be afraid to travel?
No, but pay attention to government travel alerts. Here’s a current one.
Travellers who have not been fully vaccinated or adults who have not been infected with the disease have an increased risk of infection. Even being in international airports ups your risk.
Current of concern are California, where there is an ongoing outbreak and Brazil, which has an uptick in cases. Others to watch include the Philippines, Vietnam and China.
Remember to keep up with hand-washing. If you see symptoms while away or when you return, be sure to call a doctor before visiting her. And mention what countries you’ve been to. Also, if you or a family member is sick on the flight home, alert a flight attendant, PHAC suggests.
A vaccine reminder:
Measles prevention rests on “herd immunity,” meaning that a full 95 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated or immune to protect infants, those who cannot be vaccinated due to poor health and those for whom the vaccination may not work.
For vaccine schedules, including those for adults who may not have been vaccinated, the PHAC travel alert page explains it clearly.
And if you’re not sure about the status of your vaccines, do call your doctor.
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