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Health officials renew call to check vaccination status as measles cases spread worldwide

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Heading into the spring and summer travel season, health officials continue to urge parents to ensure their children are up to date with measles vaccinations.

Following a fourth case of the virus reported in the province, Public Health Ontario sent a memo to all municipal health units regarding the risk of current global measles activity, and stressed the importance of routine immunization.

The last case of measles in Ottawa was back in 2019, but with the March break approaching, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is asking travellers to check up on their family's immunization records.

"At least six-weeks' time in advance of travel allows you the chance to get a vaccine if you're not up to date, while also having the time for it to achieve peak effectiveness," said Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Laura Bourns.

Dr. Bourns says the measles vaccine is between 85 and 95 per cent effective – a second dose brings it close to 100 per cent.

According to Public Health Ontario, immunization rates in children have declined below pre-pandemic levels. The 2021 to 2022 school year saw 59 per cent of seven-year-olds receiving both doses of the measles vaccine — down from the 2019-2020 school year, which saw 85 per cent coverage.

For those not immune to measles, up to 90 per cent can be infected, said Dr. Bourns.

As an airborne virus, measles can remain in the air up to two hours after an infected individual has left. It has been called one of the most transmissible diseases on the planet.

Initial symptoms of measles include:

  • fever
  • red watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • followed by a rash that starts on the face and then moves to the rest of the body

Dr. Bourns says complications can arise after the initial infection.

"That can be things like secondary bacterial infections or more permanent complications like deafness, brain damage or in some cases even death."

Those most at-risk groups are unvaccinated infants, pregnant people, and those who are immunocompromised.

The measles vaccine can be accessed at primary health care providers, walk-in clinics and travel clinics.

Residents can learn more about the virus at the Ottawa Public Health site. 

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