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From contact tracing to addressing vaccine hesitancy: How B.C. is responding to 1st new measles case

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In response to the first measles case imported to B.C. since 2019, health officials are ramping up public information, doctors are preparing for anxious parents, and new immigrants are getting special supports, CTV News has learned. 

The child who became the province’s first confirmed case of measles during this global outbreak was unvaccinated and newly arrived to Canada, developing symptoms after they came, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The youngster, who is under the age of 10, had been staying with their family at the Vancouver Airport Hotel on Westminster Highway in Richmond, according to Vancouver Coastal Health, which issued a warning to people who’d been there Feb. 24 to March 2.

Since the venue often accommodates immigrants and refugees during their initial stays in the country, CTV News asked if there were extra measures in place to provide vaccinations to other residents who may not have had the opportunity, and if they would be provided with alternative accommodation. VCH responded that it has done “extensive case and contract tracing” and other post-exposure measures for at-risk contacts, and is prepared to isolate any secondary cases there.

Talking about options

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses on earth, and while face-to-face contact is the most reliable method of infection, it’s not the only one.

“There have been case reports of people being infected who have been in a room after a measles case left the room,” said Dr. Monika Naus, medical director of the BCCDC’s immunization programs. “There’s no treatment for measles…so if a child develops severe pneumonia they might need a ventilator, for instance, maybe ways to reduce brain swelling if you had an infection in the brain.”

She emphasized only those unvaccinated are at risk, and that after two doses, there’s 99 per cent protection against infection.

When asked about vaccine hesitancy, the president of the Doctors of BC urged nervous parents – and even unvaccinated adults – to talk to their family doctor or a trusted health-care professional about the risks, which are few, and the benefits to the shot widely used since the 1960s.

“Is it because of another vaccine they had a bad experience with? Is its around the safety of the measles vaccine? Are they worried about the discomfort on the day of? Lets have that conversation,” said Dr. Ahmer Karimuddin.

Vaccines are free, can be administered at community health clinics and primary care offices, and nearly everyone is eligible.

Minister 'concerned' about spreading cases

Other parts of Canada have seen measles cases emerging in recent weeks, with community spread now possible in Ontario, where half of the infected children have been hospitalized – but Montreal is still considered the epicentre of cases in the country.

That has B.C.’s health minister expressing concern over the province's single confirmed case, though he pointed out the cases are growing world-wide and that the last outbreak in 2019 saw a surge in immunizations. 

“In 2019 there were 29 cases of measles in British Columbia and we took very strong action to address that at that time, including actions that led to the immunization of 38,000 school-aged children,” said Adrian Dix, pointing out that many of them were teens who made the decision on their own to be vaccinated. 

Karimuddin expressed sadness and frustration that Canada had declared the elimination of measles in 1998 with a widespread vaccination campaign, only to face fresh cases.

“I think we've forgotten what impact measles used to have, and how sick people used to get from it beyond just a simple rash,” he said. “Many people used to get significant, life-changing problems from it.” 

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