A pair of New Brunswick schools have cancelled trips to Quebec out of an abundance of caution as provincial health officials announced the ninth confirmed case of measles in Saint John this season.
Rothesay Park School and Harry Miller Middle School have now cancelled trips to Quebec that were scheduled to depart this week as a precautionary measure against the spread of the virus.
READ MORE: What to do if you think you have measles
“In light of the long incubation period of the measles virus and the understanding that more cases of measles could possibly be confirmed in the coming days, it was decided not to take an unnecessary risk,” said Jessica Hanlon, director of communications with the Anglophone South School District, in an email.
The families of the Grade 8 students were notified yesterday, and the schools are working with the tour provider, who is still in the process of cancelling venues, accommodations and transportation.
“While we understand that our families and students are disappointed, families have been largely co-operative,” said Hanlon.
The decision from the Anglophone South School District was made public only hours ahead of an announcement from provincial health officials about the ninth confirmed case of measles in Saint John.
Ninth case of measles confirmed
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said the case announced on Tuesday has been linked to a previously confirmed case at Kennebecasis Valley High School.
That brings the total of confirmed measles cases at the high school to seven.
On Friday, public health officials issued a directive that staff and students at the high school must receive a measles booster shot if they want to continue working and studying at the school.
As of Monday, more than 950 students and staff had been given the vaccine, and it was still available to the final few people who had not received it.
The first case in Saint John was confirmed last month in an individual who had recently travelled internationally.
The New Brunswick Community College reported a suspected case of the measles earlier in May, but tests came back negative.
WATCH: Three more cases of the measles have been confirmed in Saint John, bringing the total to eight
Hanlon told Global News that the Anglophone South School District’s biggest concern would be if a student could start to present symptoms while travelling, away from home and their regular health-care provider, all while being in extended and close proximity to their classmates.
The schools are looking for opportunities to arrange alternate activities for the eighth graders.
“Many parents have already reached out to the schools to offer suggestions and help in arranging alternate activities for the students,” Hanlon said.
At this time, other school activities in the district have not been cancelled.
Dr. Serge Melanson, an emergency physician in Moncton and president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said he’s not surprised by the number of cases. He believes the total could rise.
“Given the infectiousness and ease of spread of this particular virus, it’s not all that surprising that we’re up to nine. And that’s despite public health and the regional health authorities doing an exceptionally good job getting out a lot of information to folks on what to do and how to contain it and to urge people to vaccinate,” he said Tuesday.
“It has a very long incubation period, which means people can feel relatively well for a good week or two weeks before they display symptoms, which means they have a lot of opportunity to transmit it to other folks,” Melanson said.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy has said he’s not ruling out mandatory immunization for teachers and school staff in the province. Russell has been asked if she thinks that’s necessary but said that during an outbreak is not the time for that debate.
On Friday, legislators in neighbouring Maine signed into law a bill that eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations in the state. Maine has one of the highest rates of non-medical vaccine exemptions in the United States.
Melanson said he isn’t prepared to push for the same action in New Brunswick.
“I’ll leave those policy debates to those drafting those laws, but I will say there’s little scientific doubt that the easiest, safest and best way to prevent the spread of these communicable diseases is by vaccination,” he said.
“What the medical field can do better, I think, is attempting to debunk some of the messages that are out there in the community, on social media and other platforms that are promoting vaccination hesitancy.”
The measles virus is transmitted through the air or by direct contact with an infected person. Measles can be more severe in adults and infants and can lead to complications.
With files from Aya Al-Hakim