Measles outbreak in Nova Scotia: what you need to know

Six cases of the measles have been confirmed in western Nova Scotia.

The outbreak has been caused by a highly contagious virus which medical officials say can be easily contained through vaccination.

The problem is, not everybody has been vaccinated.

Dr. Trevor Arnason, Medical Officer of Health for Halifax, Eastern Shore and West Hants for Nova Scotia Health Authority has tips to keep as many people as possible safe and measles-free.

For children

Arnason said because children are routinely immunized these day, doctors are "fairly confident" that they're receiving two doses of immunization in childhood.

"From our coverage reports, we see very good reports of immunization in children," he said.

For adults 20-40

The cohort born between 1970 and the early 1990s may have only received one measles/mumps/rubella vaccine as part of the routine program, Arnason said.

Those individuals are eligible for a second dose through the publicly funded program. Arnason said if people go through their records and find that they have had only one, they can get a second dose.

"This is the group that we are seeing being affected ... these adults in their 20s and 30s," Arnason said. 

For adults born before 1970

"Older than that, [they] would have been exposed naturally," Arnason said. "Prior to 1970, there was measles around and people were immunized by being exposed to the natural infection."

Second dose of vaccine?

Anyone looking for another dose of vaccine should first go to their family doctor.

"If a person has a primary care provider, family doctor or nurse practitioner then that's the first place to go," Arnason said.

While some people don't have family doctors, Arnason said walk-in clinics may offer the vaccinations if they have it in stock.

"If we feel that there is a high risk because of an exposure, public health will offer vaccines for people that have been exposed to a case," Arnason said.

"At this point we're not actively setting up clinics or campaigns because we feel we can target the immunization to those that have been exposed."

Should I get immunized? 

Unless public health is contacting a person to let them know if they have been exposed, Arnason recommends making sure immunizations are up to date.

He said there isn't urgency for the average person to get another dose at this time.

If you have symptoms

For people who have symptoms of the measles — which includes cough, runny nose, red eyes followed by a rash — Arnason said it's important people call their primary health care provider to let them know.

"Health care providers need to take preparations to make sure they don't pass the infection on to others in the waiting room, we're advising people to call ahead," Arnason said.

"They can call their local public health office and we can connect them to someone who knows where the cases are most likely to have been and whether it's likely whether that person is connected to the outbreak."

What's the treatment?

There is no treatment for the measles, Arnason said.

"It is possible to prevent infection in the short term after exposure. If we can provide them a vaccine within a few hours we can prevent the infection." 

Who's most at risk?

Children under age five can have severe complications with the measles.

"Pregnant women can have complications and the disease can be severe in those with compromised immune systems," Arnason said.

How do I find immunization records? 

There is no centralized database of who has had and who hasn't had their immunizations.

Arnason suggests people in their 20s and 30s ask their parents or family physicians to try and ensure that they have had two doses of the vaccine. 

"It's personal health information that is the responsibility of the individual to keep track of. Family physicians may have the record still, but often it was on paper because many physicians in the 80s and 90s didn't use any sort of electronic system."