Canada’s top doctor urges measles vaccination before travelling as cases rise

Amid a global escalation of measles cases, Canadian health officials are issuing a warning about the potential surge in imported cases, especially with spring break around the corner.

Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), said in a media release on Friday that as spring break approaches, she urges Canadians to get up to date with their measles vaccine.

“I strongly advise everyone in Canada to be vaccinated with two doses of a measles vaccine, especially before travelling. If needed, measles vaccination should optimally be given at least two weeks before departure, but there are still benefits if given less than two weeks before travelling,” she said.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can spread through air and close contact. Symptoms include a rash, fever, cough and fatigue. It can also lead to serious complications, such as deafness and brain damage, and in some cases can be fatal, according to PHAC.

Children less than five years of age, adults older than 20 years of age, pregnant people and people who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of complications from measles.

Although measles has been eliminated in Canada for many years, it can still occur if someone who is not fully vaccinated travels to or from a country where the viral infection is circulating. These imported cases have the potential to spark the spread of measles among unvaccinated or under-vaccinated individuals in Canada, Tam warned.

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The best protection against measles is vaccination with two doses of a measles-containing vaccine, which are almost 100 per cent effective at preventing infection. The first dose of a measles-containing vaccine is usually given to children at 12 months of age. The second dose is usually given at 18 months of age or between four and six years of age, PHAC said.

PHAC said as of Friday, data shows there have been six measles cases reported in Canada this year, some of which have required hospitalization. Most of these cases involved unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children who travelled internationally.

“For everyone travelling this spring, I urge you to be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms of measles. Initial symptoms include fever, red watery eyes, runny nose, and cough followed by a red rash that starts on the face and then moves to the rest of the body,” Tam stated.

“If on your journey home to Canada from travel abroad you suspect you may have contracted measles, put on a well-fitting medical mask and limit contact with others, if possible. If you are experiencing symptoms, tell a flight attendant or cruise staff before you arrive in Canada or a border services officer as you enter the country.”

She added that if you develop symptoms of measles after your return, call a health-care provider immediately.

This warning comes days after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that more than half of all countries will be at high or very high risk of a measles outbreak by the end of 2024 unless preventive measures are taken.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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