About 40 students and five teachers face the prospect of being out of class until May due to a probable measles case at a local elementary school.
Alberta Health Services last week identified a probable case of the contagious disease among someone who had been at Mattie McCullough Elementary School on April 4, 8, and 9. On April 10, the health authority notified about 100 people at the school that they could be at risk of contracting the illness.
Students and teachers who have either not received or cannot provide documentation showing they have received two doses of the measles vaccine; have never been infected with the disease; or for whom a blood test does not indicate immunity from measles, have been mandated to stay home from school since Friday. Under AHS disease management guidelines, those deemed susceptible to contracting the contagion will be excluded from the school for 21 days since the last exposure date (April 9).
AHS Central Zone medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said a further update on the case will likely come today. Without formal lab confirmation, the case has only been deemed “probable” up to this point.
“If this turns out not to be a case of measles, then we certainly would send everyone back right away. The likelihood of that happening is very small,” said Hinshaw.
“We don’t take this action lightly. We would not have done this if we didn’t think it was a case of measles.”
Vaccines are typically provided to children in two doses — around the age of 12 months and once a child reaches preschool age. For those who have not received that second dose, AHS offers it through its in-school vaccine program in Grade 1.
The first dose is considered effective in 95 per cent of the population. The second dose brings effectiveness to very near 100 per cent. Conversely, 90 per cent of people who have never been vaccinated or previously contracted the disease will develop symptoms if exposed to the virus.
Already in 2014, four cases of measles have been confirmed in the Central Zone, and Hinshaw said more cases will likely result from the school exposure. Symptoms typically develop seven days after a person is exposed to the virus, said Hinshaw.
Complications from measles — which can range from high fever and rash to hearing loss, brain inflammation and even death — are most common in children under five and adults, said Hinshaw. But she said it can affect anyone who has not been properly immunized, as recent outbreaks in highly-developed European nations have shown.
“I think there’s a belief that measles is not a serious disease and some people kind of remember to when they were kids 50 years ago when it was more common. The thing I’d like to say is that measles is both extremely infectious and very serious . . . The reason that we’re doing what we’re doing is to protect the public,” she said.
Red Deer Public Schools community relations director Bruce Buruma said the division is working on a plan to keep providing education to those students forced to stay away from the school. Students from all grade levels at the K-5 Lancaster-neighbourhood school have been affected by the exclusion order, said Hinshaw.
Similar situations have occurred in three Calgary schools this year. Hinshaw said that at least over the last 10 years, none of her colleagues can recall such an action in Central Alberta.
There have been a rash of measles cases reported in Alberta since last fall, when 40 cases were confirmed in the Lethbridge area alone. Between January 1, 2001, and December 31, 2011, there were only 25 cases of measles reported in the province.