B.C. records first measles case in 5 years, urges vaccination before spring break travel

B.C. has recorded it’s first case of measles in more than five years, and as Kier Junos reports, health officials are warning people to check their vaccination status before heading away for spring break.

The Ministry of Health says B.C. has recorded its first case of measles in five years, as the highly contagious disease sees a rise in numbers worldwide.

The ministry says the case was reported over the weekend in the province, while at least nine others have been reported in Canada so far this year.

“Most of these cases were in people who were not immunized or not fully immunized, and who travelled to countries where measles is spreading,” the B.C. government said Monday.

In 2023, a total of 12 cases were reported in Canada.

The province says measles is spreading due to a decline in vaccinations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, global measles cases rose 79 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022.

“Prior to the case of measles reported over the weekend, the last case of measles was reported in B.C. in 2019, during a time of a global increase in measles activity, with cases originating from travel outside of Canada. Measles can spread quickly in school settings, and following a single case of measles in a school, children who are not immunized or not fully immunized are offered vaccine or excluded from school,” the province said.

The ministry is now urging people to get vaccinated and check their vaccination status before heading on any kind of spring break vacation.

“Measles is a highly contagious virus that can spread through air. People can pass the virus to others before they show symptoms and the virus can stay suspended in the air in a room for several hours. That is why protection by immunization is so important. People who are most at risk from measles are those who are completely unvaccinated against the disease and have not had measles.”

At Gaba Travel, a travel agency in South Vancouver, consultants are recommending clients get vaccines before going abroad, even if it’s not mandatory.

“If people are going to India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, or anywhere, we recommend to have the measles vaccinations, or the flu shots. We recommend only, it’s not compulsory,” said Rada Ganeson, a travel consultant with Gaba Travel.

Rada Ganeson says he keeps his clients posted on important health information before they go on a trip and recommends the vaccines so people can avoid health care bills abroad.

According to recent CDC data, India has the fourth highest number of measles cases in the world, followed by Ethiopia, Russia, Iraq and Pakistan.

“Most of the people won’t get the travel insurance… (but) if they get sick, they may end up with a big amount of money to pay and sometimes they can’t afford it,” Ganeson said.

The province explains that in B.C., the vaccine is given in two doses. The first is usually given on the child’s first birthday and the second is administered around the time of starting school. These are the MMR and MMRV vaccines.

The ministry says babies as young as six months old should be getting vaccinated if they’re travelling to countries where measles is spreading. “Children between one and four years can also get their second dose before travelling internationally,” it explained.

“Adults may already have protection from childhood vaccination or from having measles. Measles vaccines are typically not needed for those born before 1970 as most people in that age group have immunity to measles from a prior infection, before vaccination was widely available. However, before international travel, adults should ensure they have received two doses of a measles-containing vaccine if they were born in 1970 or later.”

The Ministry of Health explains if you are travelling and need a vaccination, it’s best to get immunized at least two weeks before travel to give time to “build immunity.”

With files from Kier Junos.

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