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A girl plays in a Regina daycare Wednesday. Photo by Tory Gillis

A girl plays in a Regina daycare Wednesday morning. Health officials say children should receive measles vaccinations before age 5. Photo by Tory Gillis.

by Tory Gillis

 

A dangerous disease from the past is showing up in Saskatchewan clinics.

 

Measles is rarely seen in Canada because immunizations can prevent it completely, but there have been six reported cases in Regina this year.

 

Health officials warn the viral infection is spread easily through the air from coughing or sneezing, and that it can have serious effects. According to Canada’s public health agency, one child in 1,000 who get measles will also develop a brain swelling called encephalitis. It can cause seizures, mental retardation, hearing loss or death.

 

Orysia MacLellan at Wascana Daycare Co-operative says their staff takes extra precautions when there is a risk for a contagious illness.

 

“We do keep an eye on hygiene with hands, doorknobs and watch out for cases. And then we post (to parents and visitors) if we do have a case of the measles.”

 

Fortunately, children in MacLellan’s care have never run into that problem.

 

“I haven’t had any cases in all my 20 years (as a caregiver). I haven’t had to deal with it, but I’ve heard of other places that have had.”

 

The province’s Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says this year’s cases are a change from past trends. He said in the past 10 years, the province has rarely recorded a case of the illness, except for one travel-related case in 2005.

 

“Since 1970 there has been a very safe and effective measles vaccine available. So basically, most parts of North America and western Europe where effective immunization programs started in the 1970’s, they have seen measles nearly vanish,” Shahab explained. “But 2011 has been a different story altogether.”

 

Canadian public health said Canada recorded an average of 11 cases of measles per year from 2002-present, except for a few outbreaks. But this year’s numbers are larger than usual.

 

Shahab says Quebec now has “a full-fledged outbreak”, despite their successful immunization plan. That province reportedly has more than 600 cases measles cases from this year.

 

The six cases from Regina come from two different strains.

 

Two unvaccinated children under five years old contracted measles in April. Four more cases were seen in September and October—from a different strain. Shahab said that having separate strains is an odd occurance.

 

“That again is very unusual. It’s not a lot of cases, but it’s something we don’t expect to see on a year by year basis.”

 

The two cases in September came from young, unvaccinated adults in the same household. October’s measles patients were middle-aged adults who may or may not have had the vaccine.

 

Shahab says few people in Saskatchewan oppose vaccinations—more often those that miss their needles have just fallen out of step with the suggested schedule. He says it’s important for everyone to keep their immunizations up-to-date to reduce the spread of measles and other afflictions. While people born before 1970 are considered to have natural immunity to measles, others are still at risk.

 

Measles symptoms include a fever, cough, spots in the mouth, a red blotchy rash, a runny nose, redness of the eyes and sensitivity to light. More information on immunizations and measles is available at www.health.gov.sk.