What you need to know about measles
In light of a recent outbreak in Vancouver, here's a quick look at what B.C. residents should know:
Are there any cases in B.C.?
There have been more than two dozen cases reported in the province so far this year.
The majority of cases are tied to a handful of schools, but the B.C. Centre for Disease Control warns that anyone travelling to parts of the world also experiencing measles outbreaks is at risk. A patient spreading the virus may not even know they're infected yet, because it's contagious days before the symptoms start.
"While it is expected that most travellers will be immune to measles, some individuals will be susceptible, including infants less than one year old or people who have never been immunized against measles," a BCCDC statement said last month.
B.C. typically sees a few cases each year, usually among under-vaccinated travellers returning from parts of the world where the virus is still common.
Last year, six cases were reported.
How can I protect myself?
Anyone heading south is advised to review and update their immunization status, especially before travel.
The vaccine is given as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and is available from many pharmacists and family doctors. It is considered safe and effective, but cannot be given to some people with weakened immune systems.
Those unsure of whether they were vaccinated during childhood can read more here about the scheduling of vaccines.
In addition to the vaccine, doctors recommend frequent hand washing, and advise against sharing food, drinks and utensils.
What are the symptoms?
Measles is highly contagious and spreads through breathing, coughing and sneezing. It can live as long as two hours in an airspace, even after the infected person has left.
It can be spread as early as four days before an infected person knows they have the virus.
Initial symptoms include fever, diarrhea, coughing, runny nose, red and watery eyes and tiredness. After a few days, a rash begins, typically starting on the face and spreading across the body.
In rare cases, it can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, blindness, deafness, and even death.
The virus usually lasts seven to 10 days.
What do I do if I think I have measles?
Those experiencing the symptoms are asked to stay home to help prevent the spread.
They should visit their doctor, but call first so the office can take precautions to protect others. Many public health authorities also ask patients to contact them to report their illness.
Vancouver Coastal Health recommends drinking fluids, staying away from others and getting plenty of rest. Some doctors may recommend vitamin A supplements for infected children.
Anyone who does not have symptoms but is concerned they may have been exposed can call 811 to speak to a nurse.