Quebec successfully pushes back against rise in measles cases

Quebec appears to be winning its battle against the rising tide of measles after 45 cases were confirmed province-wide this year.

“We’ve had no locally transmitted measles cases since March 25, so that’s good news,” said Dr. Paul Le Guerrier, responsible for immunization for Montreal Public Health.

There are 17 patients with measles in Quebec currently, and the most recent case is somebody who was infected while abroad, he said.

But it was no small task to get to this point. 

Le Guerrier said once local transmission was detected, news was spread fast among health centres to ensure proper protocols were followed — such as not letting potentially infected people sit in waiting rooms for hours on end.

Then about 90 staffers were put to work, tracking down those who were in contact with positive cases and are not properly vaccinated. They were given post-exposure prophylaxis, which prevents disease, said Le Guerrier.

From there, a vaccination campaign was launched, especially in daycares, schools and neighbourhoods with low inoculation rates. There was an effort to convince parents to get their children vaccinated.

Vaccination in schools boosted

Some schools, mostly in Montreal, had vaccination rates as low as 30 or 40 per cent.

“Vaccination was well accepted and parents responded well,” said Le Guerrier. “Some schools went from very low to as high as 85 to 90 per cent vaccination coverage.”

But it’s not only children who aren’t properly vaccinated. Le Guerrier said people need two doses after age one to be fully inoculated, and he encouraged people to check their status.

There are all kinds of reasons why people aren’t vaccinated, but it’s only about five per cent who are against immunization, he said. So far, some 10,000 people have been vaccinated against measles province-wide during this campaign, Le Guerrier said. 

The next step is to continue pushing for further vaccination, but he said, small outbreaks are likely in the future as measles is spreading abroad and travellers are likely to bring it back with them.

Need to improve vaccination rate, expert says

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist from the McGill University Health Centre, said it’s not time to rest on our laurels, but this is a good indication that public health is able to take action quickly and that people are willing to listen to health recommendations.

“We are not seeing new cases or at least the new cases are not exceeding the number of cases that we can handle,” said Vinh.

“So these are all reassuring signs, but I don’t think it’s a sign that we need to become complacent.”

Vinh said there are also signs that the public is lagging in vaccine coverage and it’s important to respond to this with improved education and access. Otherwise, microbes capitalize on our weaknesses, he said. 

Getting vaccination coverage up to an adequate level is necessary, Vinh said, or more small outbreaks like this will continue to happen.

“And it’s very possible that we may not be able to get one under control if we don’t react quickly enough,” he said.

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