Alberta Health Services confirmed last week that one Red Deer resident has contracted measles and three others are considered “probably cases,” and might have come into contact with people in Stettler, Camrose and Red Deer.
Last Wednesday, the health services issued a warning regarding the highly infectious virus. The possible dates of exposure are from Feb. 1 to 7.
In Stettler, the potential exposure to measles occurred at Sobeys and Wal-Mart, health services reported in a news release.
Dr. Digby Horne, one of three medical officers assigned to the central zone of health services, said that results from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg have confirmed a strain of the measles virus, which is currently making rounds in the Philippines.
It’s not the first time in recent memory that health services has issued measles notice. In December 2013, an outbreak of the virus in the south zone of health services, mostly in Calgary, was declared and lifted only in early January of this year.
The measles virus, which swept through Calgary, was traced back to an infection in the Netherlands, Horne said.
“We wanted to warn people who were possibly exposed,” he said. “The risk is greatest for unimmunized people, but it’s not impossible to get it even with an immunization.”
People born before 1970 are presumed to have had natural exposure to the virus, while after that, most people received two doses of the vaccine through childhood immunization, which is usually good enough to build up enough of an immune reaction to the virus and prevent infection later in life.
One of the three confirmed cases had received both immunizations, Horne said, while one of the remaining infected was born before 1970, making both infections “unusual.”
“It was a bit of a surprise that (the patient) caught it,” Horne said last week.
All three individuals who caught the virus were over 40, and are believed to have had a common cause of infection. Other than that, they are not related.
Most people with measles show signs before the rash, such as a fever of 38.3 degrees Celsius, a runny nose, and sore and reddened eyes that are sensitive to light.
“Measles can lead to complications such as inner ear infections, pneumonia, and one in a thousand develop inflammation in the brain,” Horne said. “Non-vaccinated pregnant women who catch measles can cause premature delivery or miscarriage.”
The final symptom of measles is the rash, which usually begins on the face and goes on to cover a large amount of the body. About four days after the onset of the rash, however, “the average individual” is no longer contagious.
Horne called measles “one of the more highly communicable diseases.”
He said it’s important people who believe they might have contracted measles stay at home, as the highly communicable virus can spread through the air and doesn’t require physical contact.
“Really severe cases should go to the hospital, or else stay home,” Horne said. He urged people who think they have the illness to phone Health Link Alberta to discuss their symptoms. If it’s decided measles is the likely culprit, instructions will be given on how to see a doctor while limiting exposure to the illness.
In cases where the likelihood of exposure to measles is high and it has been less than 72 hours, a vaccination can possibly prevent infection.
“We haven’t completely eliminated the diseases we provide childhood immunization for, so (the outbreak) is a good reminder of just why we immunize,” Horne said.
Possible exposure sites
Feb. 1: Camrose
Camrose Community Centre fieldhouse
Feb. 2: Stettler
Red Deer City Hall
Red Deer Key Hole
People visiting Bower Mall between 8:15 a.m. and 7 p.m. between Feb. 3 and 7 might have also come into exposure with the virus.