With cases of measles in Alberta and now moving into Saskatchewan, parents are being asked to make sure their children are vaccinated.
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Although there are no confirmed cases of measles in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region at this time, medical health officer Dr. Khami Chokani urged that parents be aware of the risks and make sure their children are immunized against the disease.
“The challenge is twofold,” he said. “One is those who are not unimmunized, for whatever the reason is and then there are those that are not up-to-date with their immunizations.”
So far, the measles outbreak is not province-wide as it is in Albert.
“We do have localized outbreaks -- there was the initial one that was in Regina earlier this year and now we have this one coming out from Lloydminster,” Chokani said.
“Clearly it does show the need for people to be up-to-date with their immunizations and if they are uncertain as to what their level is they need to get in touch with their family physician or call the public health nursing team and they will be able to check to see whether their immunization is up-to-date.”
In the case of health-care workers, it is important to make sure their immune status is documented, he said. This could also apply to others who may be in contact with infected people.
Although in most cases a child has to be 12 months old to receive their first measles vaccination, since there is an outbreak in Alberta there are exceptions.
“In light of what has been going on in Alberta, in particular Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer areas, in addition if people are travelling with a baby who is less than one year old up to six months, we do offer them a single dose that will offer them some protection,” Chokani said. “That does not mean just because they had the one dose they don’t need another one at 12 months. They do need another one at 12 months.”
The dose the child receives before reaching 12 months does not negate the necessity for a dose at both 12 months and 18 months.
“What we are encouraging is that if it is a person who say is travelling in three months time and in three months the child will be 12 months, a month before they travel we will give them that immunization, that first dose,” he added. “When they do return, because the child will be above 12 months, then we will give them that dose at 12 months and another one at 18 months.”
He encourages those travelling to Alberta to speak with their family physician, call the Saskatchewan Health Line or public health to get up-to-date information on what to do to protect both themselves and their families.
Chokani said another challenge people may face is the symptoms of measles are similar to other illnesses.
“We are still facing a number of respiratory illnesses, there are numerous viruses that are circulating that can present a similar type of picture,” he said. “The picture we are talking about is where there is a fever, a cough or a runny nose coupled with either red eyes as well and a rash that does appear.
“Now, it is not only measles that produces the rash -- there are a number of viruses that can also produce a rash, thus is it really quite important that if the child is looking ill and you, as the caregiver, are concerned about their well being, please don’t hesitate,” he added. “You can call the Health Line, you can get in touch with your family physician or you can take the child over to a walk-in and they will be assessed.”
It is important to keep immunizations up-to-date, not just for children but everyone, he said.
“If you want to know about their immunization status, please, they should have a record,” Chokani said. “If they don’t have a record, get in touch with either the family physician but ideally with public health nursing and they will be able to let them know what immunization status is on the chart.”
Another important step is to practise healthy hygiene.
“One of the important things is you’ve got to wash your hands,” Chokani said. “You really must wash you hands -- remember the simple things we are taught about using soap and water. If you don’t have access to soap and water, please use some alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”
He also advises anyone who is ill to stay out of social situations.
“More importantly, if the child is not well, don’t take the child out shopping, don’t have sleepovers, and things like that because you will end up spreading it if it is happening to be measles or any other disease.”