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Quebec urges measles vaccination after 10 cases detected, mostly in Montreal area

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Quebec public health officials are urging people to get themselves and their young children vaccinated for measles, a highly contagious disease that is making a comeback several years after its elimination.

So far, about 10 cases have been detected in the province, mainly in Montreal, but Quebec's public health director, Dr. Luc Boileau, warns that it could be just the beginning.

"It can go up very, very fast," he said Monday at a news conference in Montreal with the city's public health director Dr. Mylene Drouin and pediatrician, microbiologist and infectious disease specialist Caroline Quach-Thanh. 

Three of the confirmed cases in recent weeks have been travel-related, and the rest have been transmitted locally.

A list of possible exposures is available at the bottom of this page and on Quebec public health's dedicated measles outbreak page.

Boileau and Drouin are asking any parents whose children are not vaccinated against the disease to make an appointment through the Clic-Santé portal or by calling 1-877-644-4545.

According to the Quebec vaccination schedule, children can receive the vaccine at 12 and 18 months old. However, the vaccine can be administered, free of charge, at any age.

Authorities have so far warned that measles can make some people very ill, and that vaccination remains a safe and effective means of preventing it.

"If you are appropriately vaccinated, so two doses after the age of 12 months, you are usually absolutely protected against the disease. And if you do develop the disease -- because sometimes it happens, we do have breakthrough, like in everything else -- then the risk of complications is zero, or almost zero," said Quach-Thanh.

"The question is to be or not to be vaccinated. If you are, no problem. If you are not, you're taking a risk," added Boileau.

About 78.5 per cent of elementary-school-aged children and 82 per cent of high school students are currently vaccinated in Montreal, averages that are lower than in the rest of the province.

Measles symptoms

The first symptoms of measles include:

  • fever
  • nasal congestion with runny nose
  • coughing
  • conjunctivitis (red, runny eyes)
  • eyes sensitive to light
  • general malaise
  • Then rashes appear on the face and body.

It can take from 10 to 14 days (exceptionally up to 21 days) between exposure to the measles virus and the onset of symptoms. This is known as the incubation period. A person begins to be contagious four days before the rash appears, and can remain contagious for up to four days afterwards. Measles lasts one to two weeks.

Anyone with symptoms should isolate, wear a mask and reach out to a health professional by phone before visiting a health centre to prevent transmission.

LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: Dr. Mitch Shulman on how to avoid getting measles

Measles is easy to transmit

Public health warns that measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases – about 90 per cent of unvaccinated people can develop the disease after contact with an infected person.

Each case can generate dozens of potential contacts. A list of potential places and times of exposure is available on the measles outbreak page of the province's public health website.

Measles is caused by a virus that travels through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, sneezes or speaks. The risk of transmission continues for some time, even after the contagious person has left the premises.

It can cause serious complications, such as encephalitis and pneumonia.

One out of 3,000 cases can end in death, said Quach-Thanh.

"There are enough complications and worries that what you want is for your child not to catch measles, so if we're able to curtail this outbreak, then we should," she said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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