Peterborough-area health units urge measles vaccination as Canadian cases rise

Click to play video: 'Peterborough-area health units call for vaccinations against measles as March Break nears'
Peterborough-area health units call for vaccinations against measles as March Break nears
A number of active measles cases in Ontario has officials on high alert. While the Peterborough area has not recorded any cases, public health units in our region are asking for vigilance ahead of March break. Robert Lothian reports – Mar 5, 2024

While there have been no confirmed cases of measles in the region of Peterborough, Ont., two area public health units are urging residents to review their immunization records and get updated with measles vaccines.

In Ontario, there have been five confirmed cases reported over the past few weeks.

Peterborough Public Health and Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) officials say some new cases of measles across Canada have been linked to travel — especially concerning with the March break holiday for Ontario students next week.

“For those travelling this time of year, we are urging residents to avoid bringing home measles as their souvenir,” stated PPH medical officer of health and CEO Dr. Thomas Piggott. “Measles is a highly infectious virus that can be deadly for those who are not protected. Receiving a vaccine is the best protection against an infection.”

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The health units say children who have not received a measles vaccine and pregnant women are at the highest risk for a measles infection.

“We could see measles in our area pretty soon, so we want to make sure people are protected,” said Marianne Rock, HKPR’s communicable disease prevention manager.

Symptoms of the highly contagious disease include a running nose, red and itchy eyes, a high fever, small white spots inside the cheeks and mouth and a rash that can appear all over the body.

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“It’s actually considered to be probably the most contagious viral infection that we know of that infects humans,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, Queen’s University infectious diseases division chairperson.

Click to play video: 'Measles: the symptoms to watch for, and what vaccinated people need to know'
Measles: the symptoms to watch for, and what vaccinated people need to know

In more serious cases, the disease can cause blindness, deafness and even death.

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He notes that a driving factor in the disease’s resurgence is vaccine hesitancy and disinformation about vaccines. The disease was declared eliminated in Canada in 1998, meaning cases no longer originated within the country.

“It is a very easily preventable disease with vaccination and the lack of that vaccination is what’s causing our problems right now,” he said.

Under Ontario law, students must provide vaccination records or a valid exemption. The HKPR health unit says it is still short of updated vaccination records for about 3,600 students.

“I can say that generally we are sort of entering into a lot more conversations with parents just questioning vaccines and everything,” Rock said.

The health units say two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine or the measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine are available free of charge for everyone in Ontario from a health-care provider.

“Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, some children have had delays of their routine childhood immunizations, which includes the MMR vaccination, and leaves them at risk of contracting measles,” said Dr. Natalie Bocking, HKPR’s medical officer of health and CEO. “With the rise in measles cases, we’d like to remind and encourage people to ensure all your immunizations are up to date, including the MMR vaccine, particularly before traveling internationally this March break.”

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Immunization may take two to three weeks to provide full protection.

Peterborough Public Health serves Peterborough, Peterborough County, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation. You can review your immunization record or your child’s online.

HKPR serves Northumberland and Haliburton counties and the City of Kawartha Lakes. Residents can book an immunization appointment by calling 1-866-888-4577 ext 1507 or book online.

— with files from Robert Lothian and Katie Dangerfield, Global News

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