Interior Health (IH) is investigating a measles outbreak in Revelstoke after four people, including two high school students, came down with the virus in the past week.
“We haven’t identified any definite connection between these people,” said Dr. Andrew Larder, a senior medical health officer with IH, in an interview with the Times Review. “We haven’t established a particular place where there was common exposure and that can be hard to do with measles because it’s so contagious. It’s spread through airborne droplets. “
The source of the outbreak is also being investigated, he added.
IH sent out a news release Tuesday morning warning of an outbreak after one confirmed case and three probable cases of measles in Revelstoke were identified.
Two of the probable cases attended class at Revelstoke Secondary School. The two students were in different grades, said principal Mike Hooker.
About 85-90 per cent of the population is immune from measles, either due to previous exposure or through vaccination, said Dr. Larder. Still, those who aren’t immune are at a high risk of contracting the virus.
“The attack rate of measles is 90 per cent, which means is you expose 100 susceptible people to measles, 90 of them will get sick,” Larder said. “That’s how contagious it is.”
He added that you could be exposed by being in the same room as someone with measles, even if they left the room as much as two hours earlier.
The first case was reported on Feb. 18 on a student at RSS and the three others were discovered after that, said Larder. Health officials were looking at other places people could have come in contact with the virus.
He said information about measles was provided to all students at the high school on Monday and an immunization clinic was being held.
“The school is the focus of our attention because that’s an age group that can be susceptible.”
Even though most people are immune, it only takes one case of measles to constitute an outbreak because the disease is so rare in British Columbia, said Dr. Larder.
“Because it’s so contagious there are enough people that are susceptible, you can still get outbreaks,” he said.
Symptoms of measles included cough, runny nose, fever and red and inflamed eyes, said Dr. Larder. “These are followed by a rash, which starts first on the face and neck, spreads to the chest, arms and legs, and lasts for at least three days.
“It is very important that if you have a fever, cough, rash and red eyes to stay away from others to prevent spreading the disease.”
Hooker said that more students than usual called in sick Tuesday as they experienced some symptoms, such as cough and runny nose.
“We got a number today that said, ‘We’re not sure so we’re not coming,'” he said. “The fever, cough and runny nose, lots of kids have that. That’s pretty common at this time of year so I’m glad they’re taking Interior Health’s advice and staying at home and figuring it out.”
Larder said most people could treat measles by themselves by treating the symptoms, getting lots of rest and drinking lots of fluids. However, other complications could arise.
About 10 per cent get ear infections; five per cent get diarrhoea, five per cent could get pneumonia and one per cent could end up in hospital. About one in 1,000 cases get encephalitis or inflammation of the brain, which can lead to convulsions and brain damage.
One of about 3,000 cases result in death.
“When you only get one or two cases in the country, that’s a very low risk,” said Larder. “Before you had immunization virtually every single person got measles as a kid and you would get a mortality of about one in 3,000. Lots of kids in other countries still die of measles so it is potentially quite a serious illness.”
People born before 1957 are considered immune from measles because they were likely exposed to the disease in their youth. If you were born after 1957, you’re only considered to be immune if you had two doses of the measles vaccine or were expose to the disease before, said Larder.
“If you haven’t had two doses, contact the health unit and they’ll make arrangements for you to get immunized,” he said.
Larder also said they notified the ski resort of the outbreak because of the number of foreign workers there. They might be more susceptible because they come from countries with lower immunization rates.
If you do develop the symptoms, it’s recommended you stay at home and isolate yourself. Should you want to see a doctor, call ahead, recommends Dr. Larder.
“Don’t just show up in a doctor’s office or emergency room. It is absolutely crucial. If you get someone with a case of measles walking into an emergency waiting room, you have just exposed every person in that room and it’s absolutely crucial not to do that.”
Measles vaccines are available by calling the Revelstoke Health clinic at 250-814-2244.
Further information can be found at http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/kb/content/mini/hw198187.html#hw198189.
If you have any questions about measles you may call HealthLink by dialling 811 or Interior Health at 1-866-778-7736.