Measles in BC: Timeline and what you need to know

Not long ago, measles cases were far and few in between.

There were two cases in 2016 and just one in 2017. There were six cases confirmed in 2018.

The last outbreak of measles in B.C. was in 2014 when 343 cases were reported. Those cases were linked to an outbreak in a religious community that objects to vaccination.

Last week, Vancouver Coastal Health declared a measles outbreak in the city after as many as nine cases were reported in Vancouver.

Here’s how we got here and what you need to know.

Vancouver Coastal Health has declared a measles outbreak in Vancouver.

Sean Gallup /

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January / February 2019: An individual who has been confirmed as having measles visited the emergency room at B.C. Children’s Hospital during the following times:
• Jan. 21, 2019 – 10 a.m. to 6:10 p.m.
• Jan. 23, 2019 – 4:45 p.m. to 11:10 p.m.
• Jan. 24, 2019 – 8:13 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.
• Feb. 1, 2019 – 2:05 p.m. to 6:55 p.m.
If you also visited on those days during those times, contact your health care provider.

Jan. 25, 2019: Washington state declared a state of emergency due to the measles outbreak. As of Feb. 17, a total of 62 cases were confirmed, but there was no evidence the cases in Washington are linked to those in B.C.

Feb. 9, 2019: The first B.C. case of measles leading up to the current outbreak was confirmed. By the time this case was confirmed, it was past the point of being infectious.

Feb. 13, 2019: VCH announced a second case of measles was confirmed in the city; there are no indications it is linked to the first case. The patient was a school-aged child who was infected locally, not while travelling abroad.

Feb. 14, 2019: An online petition calling on the province to make vaccinations mandatory in B.C. schools has picked up traction. Just one day after the second case of measles was announced, the petition had already garnered more than 1,800 signatures. Another five days later, the petition now has nearly 27,000 signatures.

Feb. 15, 2019: Health officials confirmed there were several cases of measles at three French-language schools in Vancouver: École Jules‐Verne, École Anne‐Hébert and École Rose-Des-Vents. The cases are occurring in staff, students and family members linked to the schools.

More to come.

A symptom of measles includes a rash that starts on the torso and spreads to the limbs.


What’s the deal with measles and what should I know?

Measles is highly infectious. Highly. It can be spread through coughing, sneezing, breathing the same air as an infected person, sharing food or drinks, sharing a cigarette and yes, even through kissing a person with measles.

The measles virus can survive for several hours in small droplets in the air.

Most people will recover but those with a weak immune system or infants could experience serious complications. Those could include encephalitis (an infection and swelling of the brain), meningitis, pneumonia, deafness and infection of the liver.

Measles in B.C. is usually rare and linked to cases of unvaccinated residents returning from overseas travel.

How do I know if I have measles?

The incubation period is about 10 days and the symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by a rash that starts on the body and spreads to the limbs. The rash lasts at least three days. You may also have small white spots inside your mouth.

The symptoms can begin as early as a week after being infected.

Some people may have measles, be infectious and not even know it. Those who are infected can spread the virus anywhere from four days before to four days after a rash appears.

How do I protect against measles? How do I know whether I’ve been vaccinated?

Health officials recommend two doses of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine to be fully protected against measles. The first immunization is usually received at the age of one, while the second usually comes before starting kindergarten.

If you’re unsure if you’ve been vaccinated, the first stop is to check your health records.

Born in or after 1994 here in B.C.? You’re likely to be immune because those born in or after 1994 here in B.C. will have had two doses of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, the first dose when they turn a year old and a second before starting kindergarten, as part of routine vaccinations.

Born between 1970 and 1994? Grew up outside of B.C.? You may have only received one dose of the MMR vaccine. You’ll need a second dose to be protected.

Born before 1970? Or you’ve already had measles in the past? You’re likely to be immune.

Can’t remember if you’ve had one or two doses of the vaccine? The Canadian Centre for Disease Control says adults who do not have evidence of immunity should get at least one dose of MMR. It’s entirely safe to get the vaccine again.

I’m not vaccinated and I’ve been exposed to measles. What now? How do I treat it?

If you’ve been exposed to measles and you’re not vaccinated, you’ll need to get a dose of the MMR vaccine within 72 hours of exposure to prevent the illness.

But wait – don’t go to the emergency room or a doctor’s office without calling first. You’ll be highly contagious and the last thing you want is to spread it even further. Calling ahead will allow doctors make arrangements for your arrival and to ensure you’re isolated from other vulnerable patients.

–with files from Tiffany Crawford, Postmedia


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