Health care professionals continue to monitor the virus’ presence in the Lower Mainland
Alden Mackay, Contributor
Vancouver Coastal Health declared on Friday, Feb. 15 an outbreak of measles, the largest in five years in the city. To date there have been 15 confirmed cases in the Vancouver area, 10 of which have been found in schooling environments where the virus is likely to spread the fastest.
Brenda Mackay, a registered nurse of 33 years at Lion’s Gate Hospital recalled having contracted the virus as a child. “It was dreadful, truly awful,” she said. “I remember my mother carrying myself and my four siblings to the bathroom as we were too weak to walk. The curtains were kept closed in our house as the light was too painful to our eyes.” Mackay’s father was against vaccination.
The measles virus begins with a fever, a runny nose, and a whooping-like cough which culminates into a rash that spreads across the body. The first dose of the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended for children by the age of 12 months and covers up to 85 per cent protection against the measles. A second dose is administered around age five. “It’s just a pin prick,” Mackay said. “It’s nothing compared to the pain, suffering and dangers associated with the measles.”
The skepticism surrounding vaccination, and the subsequent anti-vaccination movement, sees its roots in a 1998 study published in The Lancet that suggested a link between immunization and autism. Later, the study conducted by British doctor Andrew Wakefield was shown to lack sufficient evidence and to be completely inaccurate by several world health agencies. Wakefield has since lost his medical licence.
In 2014 there were 343 reported cases of measles in the Vancouver area. The latest outbreak is cause for concern for those who are most at risk, such as young children, but there are steps that can be taken to protect yourself in the virus’ presence. Measles survives on surfaces and in airborne conditions for several hours before dying. In a crowded place such as a school or library, anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated is at risk. Breathing the same air as an infected individual can be enough to contract the virus. “Wash your hands,” Mackay warned. “Soap and water is a great defence against many organisms and make sure you don’t touch your eyes!”.
BC residents born after 1994 have most likely received the MMR vaccination when they were a child, but a second look at medical records is wise if there is any uncertainty. If records are unavailable, another shot can be administered after speaking with a health care provider. Exposure to the virus can be addressed with a visit to the doctors office, although it is wise to call ahead before showing up to a crowded place such as a waiting room in which further contamination is possible. The vaccine itself can be administered up to three days after contraction to prevent further symptoms. In the meantime it may be wise to wear a mask.
“I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone,” Mackay said. “I still remember how horrible it was after all this time. I like to live by a risk versus benefit attitude when weighing options when it comes to healthcare.”
For anyone seeking more information on the measles virus, or any other inquiries, please visit immunizebc.ca or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1. The best way to be protected is to stay informed.