Health minister ‘deeply concerned’ about rise of measles cases in Canada

Click to play video: 'Holland encourages Canadians to get vaccinated amid rise in Measles cases'
Holland encourages Canadians to get vaccinated amid rise in Measles cases
WATCH: Concerns of measles vulnerability increase as cases are confirmed in Ontario and Quebec – Mar 4, 2024

As measles continues its slow spread across communities in the country, health officials are urging Canadians to stay vigilant and keep their vaccinations up-to-date.

Speaking at a media conference on Monday, Health Minister Mark Holland said he is “deeply concerned” with the global measles outbreak and its potential impact on Canada.

“We’re seeing a lot of illness that was almost rendered non-existent, starting to come back because of vaccine hesitancy,” Holland told reporters. “We have to depoliticize health information. We have to be a society that follows science. … There should be no partisanship in following the best health advice that’s rooted in science and evidence.”

As of Feb. 17, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) had recorded six domestic measles cases this year. Since the data was recorded, there have been more reported cases in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

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Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. Symptoms include a rash, fever, cough and fatigue. It can also lead to serious complications, such as deafness and brain damage, and in some cases can be fatal, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

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“The measles virus spreads through the air when a person who is infected breathes, coughs sneezes or talks,” a Health Canada spokesperson told Global News in an email on Friday.

“It may also spread through direct contact with secretions from the nose and throat of a person who is infected or from touching objects with these secretions. Measles is one of the most highly communicable infectious diseases, and can very easily spread to other people if they are susceptible.”

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Measles case found without travel link'
Health Matters: Measles case found without travel link

The best protection against measles is vaccination with two doses of a measles-containing vaccine, which are almost 100 per cent effective at preventing infection.

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In 1998, measles was declared eliminated in Canada, meaning cases were no longer originating in this country. But infections occur here when someone contracts measles in another country and travels here, according to PHAC. And measles vaccination rates have declined over the years, and the incidence of the disease has begun to rise.

Last month, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said it was concerned that a global surge in measles activity could lead to more cases of the highly contagious disease in this country. PHAC is strongly advising everyone to check that they’re fully immunized against measles, especially before travelling.

Both adults and children need to have received two doses of measles vaccine in order to be fully protected.  The first dose of a measles-containing vaccine is usually given to children at 12 months of age. The second dose is usually given at 18 months of age or between four and six years of age, PHAC said.

— with files from Global News’ Kevin Nielsen and the Canadian Press

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