You’ve seen the headlines, you’ve read the comments and you’ve watched the hysteria build.
Dr. Monika Naus, medical director of the Communicable Diseases and Immunization Services at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, explains exactly what the big deal is.
“There’s no treatment for measles, so if you get measles it’s your own body that has to cure you,” said Naus.
Measles is a virus, so antibiotics don’t work. According to Naus the most modern medicine can do for you is aid in the healing, but your body has to tackle the infection itself.
“If your lungs are full of measles virus and you’re in respiratory failure you can be put on a ventilator,” said Naus. “If you have a brain infection with measles … they can give you steroids to reduce swelling – but essentially it’s up to you to cure yourself.”
Measles is a highly infectious virus spread through airborne transmission making it that much easier to contract.
“You don’t need direct contact. You don’t need to be sharing spit, kissing, sharing – it’s airborne, so it’s that much more infectious.”
Because measles can spread so easily in susceptible populations it can cause exceedingly high numbers of cases.
“When you have high numbers of cases, you also wind up with a high number of cases with complications,” said Naus.
Measles can infect any part of the body and serious infection occurs when the virus spreads to a person’s lungs or brain.
According to Naus there is debate around how fatal measles is, but it’s estimated from North American data about one in 300 cases result in death.
In 1996 Canada adopted the measles elimination goal as part of the Pan American Health Organization because it was recognized increasingly that measles elimination was achievable.
“We do get imported cases, sometimes a visitor or a Canadian returning from overseas and most of the time there’s no onward transmission if people around them are vaccinated,” said Naus. “If they go into a group of people with susceptible individuals that’s when we see transmission.”
According to Naus measles is still a big problem worldwide, particularly where children are malnourished coupled with little available treatment the virus is still killing hundreds of thousands of children worldwide.
Naus said while it is achievable to eliminate measles, it requires a demand from the public to be vaccinated and prevent the disease from spreading.
“There are people who believe that general health, eating nutritious foods and exercising is sufficient,” said Naus. “Yes – all those things help your immune system but they don’t provide you with specific immunity.”
The recent outbreak has been limited to a small group of schools in Vancouver and according to Naus there haven’t been anymore reported cases since Valentines Day.
“The incubation period for measles is up to 21 days so we won’t know whether there will be any additional cases until about the 7th of March,” said Naus.
For more information on how you can get vaccinate to protect against to measles virus visit immunizebc.ca/finder
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