With measles cases back in the news, public health is reminding people to ensure their family members are properly vaccinated.
“I think it’s especially important to raise awareness about the importance of immunization now that it’s coming closer to home and it’s more of a reality in peoples’ lives,” Sarah Ellis, manager of the vaccine preventable diseases program at the Grey Bruce Health Unit, said in an interview Wednesday.
“These diseases aren’t in some country that’s outside of Canada; it’s happening here in Ontario. I think it increases awareness and hopefully increases the number of people that can get immunized with the appropriate vaccines.”
Toronto Public Health recently confirmed that it is investigating a confirmed case of measles in the city. The case involves a baby who was not immunized and who contracted the disease while travelling abroad.
A measles outbreak has been confirmed in the Vancouver area of British Columbia, with 15 confirmed cases of the disease. Measles have also been confirmed in nearly a dozen American states and some outbreaks have been reported south of the border, including in New York.
Ellis’s comments on the importance of vaccinations also come after the Grey Bruce Health Unit issued suspension notices for 411 students in Grey-Bruce that require their parents to provide proof of immunization for their child.
Under the Immunization of School Pupils Act, students require proof of immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease, whooping cough, and – for children born in 2010 or later – chickenpox.
Ellis said the number of suspension notices is down from the 516 sent out at this time last year.
Students could face suspension if proof of immunization or a valid exemption is not provided by a March 26 deadline.
The health unit is offering free walk-in clinics during March Break to assist families to get immunizations before that date.
An Owen Sound clinic at 101 17th St. E. will be open March 11 to 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. No appointment is required.
Appointments are required for the Walkerton clinic, which is scheduled for March 14 at the South Bruce Grey Health Centre. They can be made by calling 519-376-9420 or 1-800-263-3456 and pressing 2.
Ellis said there hasn’t been a case of measles reported in Grey-Bruce since 1996. The last case of mumps was reported in 2001.
“Robust student immunization rates help ensure a safe school environment and also protect others in our region who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons, such as infants and seriously sick or frail individuals,” she said.
Ellis said when a case of measles is reported in Ontario, there is always a risk that the person affected could have had contacts with someone locally.
Measles is a highly contagious virus spread through coughing and sneezing that can live for up to two hours in the air, according to the Public Health Ontario.
Symptoms include fever, a red blotchy rash, red watery eyes and white spots in the mouth.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says measles can be prevented with vaccination. The measles vaccine is safe, effective and free, the agency says. With two doses, PHAC says measles vaccination is almost 100 per cent effective.
Children in Ontario receive two doses of measles-containing vaccine before their seventh birthday.
Adults who have had only one dose of the vaccine or who have not been vaccinated can call public health to see if they should get the shot.