The measles virus trickling into Central Alberta is likely the same strain that hammered the Philippines.
Three cases in Alberta Health Services Central Zone were confirmed in February. One in March still needs to be confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.
“Our estimate of what happened back in February is we had an imported case, possibly from the Philippines because that’s the strain isolated in those three cases,” said Dr. Digby Horne, Central Zone medical officer of health, on Monday.
“Now we have that same strain again (in March). The person had gone to the Philippines.”
Measles is extremely contagious and spread through the air.
People are considered contagious one day prior to any viral symptoms (which is usually about four to seven days before the rash appears) until four days after the appearance of the rash.
Horne did anticipate more cases.
“We’ve got opportunity for importation from B.C. and then we’ve got outbreaks occurring internationally. Really, it’s just a plane ride away so we’re going to have continued introductions.”
British Columbia’s Fraser Valley had 288 cases as of March 24, along with other smaller outbreaks in Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Horne said for now measles is a sporadic issue in Central Alberta.
The concern is that if there are pockets of people who consistently don’t immunize, there will be bigger outbreaks.
On Friday, AHS issued a warning for potential measles exposure in late March at three city locations:
l Real Canadian Superstore, including Horizon Family Medicine (5016 51st Ave.), between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on March 26.
l The Village Mall Medical Clinic (No. 22 6320 50th Ave.) from 2 to 7 p.m. on March 27 and from noon to 4 p.m. on March 30.
l Dynalife Laboratory (No. 101 5002 55th St.) from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on March 28.
Anyone with symptoms should call Health Link Alberta at 1-866-408-5465 before visiting any health-care facility or health-care provider.
Horne said the immunization rate for measles in Central Alberta is between 75 to 95 per cent depending on the community. Immunization of 95 to 97 per cent, whether from childhood immunization or natural exposure for those born before 1970, is needed to prevent it from spreading.
“We don’t have that so we’ll anticipate some spread and we do what we can to control that by following up the contacts and immunizing people and excluding them from school until the outbreak subsides.”
Last fall, there was an outbreak in Southern Alberta with 42 people affected. That outbreak was declared over by early January.
“If you haven’t been immunized … sooner or later you’re probably going to get infected whether you go to B.C., or go to the States where there might be an outbreak, or you go overseas. The disease has not been eradicated in the world like small pox so it’s kind of just a matter of time.”
That’s why it’s important to focus on childhood immunization, Horne said.
“Although the disease may disappear for a while because a lot of people are immunized, unless you have everyone immunized you’re at risk of getting cases when you get importations.”
A two-dose vaccine is recommended to everyone born in 1970 or after. People born before then are considered to likely be immune. Vaccination is offered free through Alberta’s immunization program.
Measles can lead to pneumonia and, in rare cases, even death. Symptoms include a fever of 38.3C or higher, a cough, runny nose and/or red eyes and a red blotchy rash that appears three to seven days after the fever starts, and sensitive eyes.