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Travellers urged to check vaccine records as measles reported in popular vacation destinations

Dr. Robert Strang says there has been a global resurgence of measles cases
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Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health is encouraging anyone planning a trip outside the country to check their vaccination records.

Dr. Robert Strang says there has been a global resurgence of measles cases.

"The U.K., Italy, the Ukraine and other parts of Europe ... even the U.S.," he explains. "They have a big outbreak in New York State, they have a large outbreak in Washington State, putting people at increased risk of being exposed to measles."

Despite measles being officially declared eradicated in 1998, as of the end of March, there have also been 33 reported cases in Canada so far this year, in Quebec, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, and Alberta.

The disease hasn't appeared in Nova Scotia since spring 2017 when there were two clusters of measles cases, both caused by travellers.

"The initial cases were people who travelled outside the country and then brought it back," he says. "There was a limited amount of spread, but for the last two years, we have not had any measles cases here in Nova Scotia."

Although most people who contract the virus recover, measles can cause serious complications in 20 percent of cases, including ear infections, pneumonia, the swelling or inflammation of the brain, seizures, and deafness. According to the province's Department of Health, one in every 3,000 cases in Canada is fatal.

The measles vaccine was introduced in the 1970s. Strang says those born before 1970 likely have a natural immunity.

The first dose of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) is given to children at 12 months of age as part of their routine vaccination schedule. A second dose is given to preschool-aged children.

That second dose wasn't introduced until 1996, so those born between 1970 and 1991 may not have received it.

"We need to maintain high levels of immunization in the general population to prevent spread if there's an introduction of measles from another part of the world," Strang says.

He says getting vaccinated not only helps you, but it helps protect others. 

"There are individuals in our society -- more and more of them nowadays with advances in medical technology -- that, whether it's cancer chemotherapy or other reasons, they have supressed immune systems," he says.

"There's also small numbers of people who can't get a live virus vaccine, which MMR is. Those people absolutely rely on the rest of us to get immunized for their health and protection."

If you haven't had two doses of MMR, contact your primary health care provider or the Nova Scotia Health Authority to arrange an immunization.




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Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana & lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the community editor for HalifaxToday.ca.
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