VICTORIA – The largest measles outbreak ever recorded in British Columbia at 320 confirmed cases has been mostly contained to the eastern Fraser Valley, the government says.
The outbreak that is now into its fourth week is expected to continue for about another two weeks in the communities of Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.
On Monday, Health Minister Terry Lake credited the leadership of Dr. Paul Van Buynder and the health-care providers at Fraser Health for halting the spread of the disease that spread from an unimmunized religious group.
The health authority has been working with schools, community groups and churches since the outbreak was declared on March 8 and has set up immunization clinics in public health and doctors’ offices.
However, the Whatcom County Health Department, just south of the Fraser Valley in Washington State, said Sunday that a resident contracted the disease while visiting B.C. and the patient is isolated at home.
Two weeks ago, the health authority confirmed that a student at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Burnaby was infected with measles, which is spread through droplets in the air formed when someone coughs or sneezes.
Dr. Lisa Mu, a medical health officer with Fraser Health, said 228 cases of measles were confirmed last week and that the number of new cases represent suspected cases, which have now been positively identified.
“It’s the largest measles outbreak that B.C. has seen,” she said, adding most of the cases involve children and that two of them have been hospitalized.
Mu said the outbreak began among a religious group called the Netherlands Reformed Congregation and that the Whatcom County resident is part of the same religion.
“My understanding is that this community feels that natural immunity is what God has intended and that vaccinations would interfere with that. We respect their beliefs, absolutely, but we still urge all others to get vaccinated and to get up to date on the vaccine in order to get protection against the virus.”
Many people from the religious group have chosen to be vaccinated at clinics set up to increase vaccination rates, Mu said.
People born after 1970 are urged to get vaccinated because they would not have natural immunity to the measles virus. Two doses of the vaccine are given to children — one at 12 months and the other at about age five, before they enter school.
Mu said the containment of measles to the religious community and the increased rate of vaccination is shielding the community at large.
Initial symptoms of measles include fever, runny nose, drowsiness, irritability and red eyes. The disease can lead to complications including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia and encephalitis.
Measles cases have also been detected in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.