Interior Health says there are no confirmed cases of measles in B.C.’s Interior, including the Okanagan, but local residents should follow B.C.’s immunization schedule as a safeguard.
In a 30-minute conference call with the media on Wednesday afternoon, Interior Health (IH) said it decided to discuss measles following a measles outbreak in the Lower Mainland. That outbreak, said IH, prompted “hundreds of calls” regarding measles vaccinations.
“We don’t want people to panic; there are no cases of measles in the interior,” said IH medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema.
WATCH BELOW: Interior Health urges immunization in the wake of Vancouver measles outbreak
Health officials noted the last confirmed measles outbreaks in the interior region were 2010, when 14 cases were confirmed, and 2011, when seven cases were confirmed.
Interior Health says vaccinations are the best way to protect against measles, adding two doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine offers the best protection.
IH says children under the age of 12 months are not vaccinated for measles, so the best way to protect them and other vulnerable people is to make sure others around them are vaccinated. IH also said people born before Jan. 1, 1970 are considered immune to measles and do not require the vaccine.
Mema said as far as she knows, the Lower Mainland outbreak has been contained and people who have been exposed have been notified. There have been nine cases of measles confirmed in the Vancouver outbreak so far.
“The message we are trying to get out to people in the interior is we do not have any confirmed cases of measles that we know of,” said Mema.
“Really, what we are trying to do here is to remind people that they need to follow the B.C. immunization schedule, and that includes measles-containing vaccine and other vaccines that are also effective at preventing other diseases.”
Mema added that it’s not uncommon for Interior Health to investigate possible measles cases.
“Measles is endemic in other parts of the world and people travel,” said Mema. “So sometimes we do have people who have travelled outside the interior. They come back and they are seen by a physician and they believe that perhaps it’s measles they have, so we investigate them.
“Really, for us, it’s not uncommon to have those cases.”
Mema added “we do not have any confirmed cases. We are watching for anybody who may come up with measles disease because it’s around, in Washington state and there is an outbreak in Vancouver Coastal Health. But, really, there isn’t a lot here to do, other than ask people to get immunized, to follow the B.C. immunization schedule.”
According to IH, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine immunization rate in the Okanagan is 86 per cent, as is the Thomson-Cariboo-Shuswap. The Kootenay-Boundary region is listed at 81 per cent while the East Kootenay is at 90 per cent.
The goal is to reach 95 per cent.
Mema said vaccines are “effective, are safe. It’s the best way to protect your kids against communicable diseases. And some people will object to that and will not want to immunize their children.
“So, for them, we keep saying the message, that vaccines are safe and effective. But sometimes people object and will not immunize. That may draw immunization rates down.”
Mema said some people may have to wait, possibly weeks, to get immunized, but if there was an outbreak, IH would “ramp up the capacity to provide immunizations.”