Vaccines an important preventative measure, medical officer says

Sueann Musick, The New Glasgow News
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New Glasgow – Pictou County doesn’t have any recorded incidents of the measles despite an outbreak in other parts of the country, but people should still take preventative measures, said a spokesman for the local health authority.

The Medical Officer of Health for Pictou County District Health Authority is advising people to take precautions to protect themselves by getting vaccindated. —Thinkstock image


Dr. Ryan Sommers, Medical Officer of Health for the Pictou County District Health Authority said Thursday that latest statistics show that Nova Scotia has not had a laboratory confirmed case of measles in over 10 years.

However, an increased number of cases are springing up in western provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta and now Ontario that he largely attributes to global travel involving people from countries with existing outbreaks and in populations not vaccinated for religious reasons.

“We have a good record here with vaccines,” he said. “Most of the cases in Canada are from international sources.”

He said countries such as the Philippines, where its infrastructure has broken down since last year’s typhoon and vaccines may not be as readily or consistently available, have resulted in a large outbreaks of measles.

People who also live in Canada and are not vaccinated, but travel to these countries with known measles outbreaks also run the risk of carrying the virus back to Canada. One example of this would be the Netherlands.

Sommers said Canadian children receive a live vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella between the ages of 12 and 15 months.  A second booster shot is given to children between four and six years.

Survey data shows that a large majority of Canadians have had the measles vaccine, although there have been questions raised in the past over their safety. 

Sommers said a small study from England in the mid-1990s linked vaccines as the cause of autism, but the study has been refuted many times in the medical world since this time.

“I know of 110 peer reviewed articles that have not shown an association between the measles vaccine and autism,” he said. “It's a safe vaccine. We have quality data to support this.”  

However, he added, that people will still hold on to the belief because of misinformation on some websites and campaigns by celebrity spokespeople.

“Vaccines are extremely safe and people experience very few side effects,” he said, adding adverse reactions to vaccines are carefully monitored in Canada to ensure the safety of the vaccine supply.

Sommers said the most commonly noted side effect after a vaccine is pain at the injection site or a low-grade fever for about 24 hours that can be controlled with over the counter medication.

However, he also noted that some parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children for a number of reasons.

“Today’s generation of parents don’t appreciate the impact these diseases can have on a child and their communities,” he said.  “They have never seen mumps, diphtheria or polio and if you talk to their grandparents, they can tell you about the number of children they knew who needed iron lung machines to help them breath after contracting polio.”

With the exception of the annual flu shot, he said most vaccines don't usually change their makeup, but sometimes there is a need for a booster shot.  For example, recent outbreaks of whooping cough in certain areas of Canada, including New Brunswick, have some health officials and researcher rethinking how frequently these booster shots are needed.

Sommers said statistics shows they are effective in reducing infectious diseases. For example, in Toronto during from 1950 - 1954 there were 60,000 reported cases of the measles, but between 2007 and 2011 this number has dropped to 750. 

The large majority of these 750 cases can be traced back to international travel.   he said, adding recently a travel alert was issued in Ontario because an infant infected with measles had exposed passengers on a flight from Abu Dhabi

The Department of Health and Wellness recently sent a memo to all health care professions in Nova Scotia about the increase in the number of measles cases in Canada.

“We are reminding people that prevention is the most important thing you can do to limit the risks from measles,” he said.

He said people born before the 1970s likely have a natural immunity to the virus because it was so prevalent during this time.  Anyone born after the 1970s require two doses of the measles vaccine. If a person is unsure, they contact their family doctor to confirm they were vaccinated or they can undergo a blood test to ensure they’re immune.

Sommers said measles is associated with a number of complications.  He said about 80 per cent of the infected individual will not have any major problems, but serious complications can arise such as pneumonia, ear infections, seizures, or even death.

Symptoms for the measles will start about 10 days after a person is infected with the virus which may include a fever, runny nose, red, watery eyes, often sensitive to light, cough, small white spots on the inside of the month and than a rash that starts on the face and neck and spreads and last from four to seven days.

Vaccination not only protects the individual, but also the community.  There is some value in “herd immunity”, he said, meaning that the more people who are vaccinated in a population, it is less likely an infectious disease will spread. 

Organizations: Pictou County District Health Authority, Department of Health and Wellness

Geographic location: Canada, Nova Scotia, Ontario British Columbia Alberta Philippines Netherlands England New Brunswick Toronto Abu Dhabi

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