Let's talk about vaccinations and measles

Vaccinations and measles have been a hot topic for many Ontarians. Along with public health officials debunking vaccination myths, urging people to check their immunizations records and get vaccinated, some parents on social media say an anti-vaccination movement has put their children at serious risk by making them vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Dr. Kevin Katz, Director of Infection and Prevention Control, North York General Hospital

              Dr. Kevin Katz
The Pulse talked to North York General Hospital's Dr. Kevin Katz, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control, about what you can do to stay safe and protect others.

1: Can an infectious disease like measles be prevented?

Getting vaccinated is the best way of preventing measles. For full protection, you need two shots of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. In Ontario, most children born after January 1, 1970, would have received two vaccinations; one shot at 12 months of age and the second shot between four to six years of age. Talk to your family physician to check if all your immunizations, or your children's, are up-to-date. It's never too late to get immunized.

2: Why is it important to vaccinate?

Infectious diseases like measles, mumps and rubella are all preventable with vaccinations. However, with a growing number of people not vaccinating, it creates vulnerabilities in our communities.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles.Vaccinations don't only protect those who get them, they also protect the community by preventing the virus from spreading.

This is particularly important to those who can't be vaccinated (less than 12 months of age, have compromised immune systems or are allergic to parts of the vaccine) and those rare few who don't develop immunity from the vaccine. This protection is often referred to as "herd immunity" which, unfortunately, is only effective when a significant proportion of the population (greater than 95% for measles) is vaccinated.

For the health and safety of everyone, it is important to get vaccinated if you can.

3: Can you still get measles if you've been vaccinated?

There is a very small chance of developing measles if you've been vaccinated. About 3% of people who are vaccinated will not develop immunity. Unvaccinated individuals, on the other hand, have a 90% risk of infection when exposed.

4: I think I, or my child, has measles. What should I do?

If you or a loved one begin to develop signs and symptoms of measles (fever, rash, cough, red watery eyes and runny nose), call the health care facility or office ahead of time so proper precautions can be made to protect others. This includes visiting hospitals, urgent care centres, walk-in clinics, a family physician's office, and pharmacies. Most patients who have measles can recover at home unless they develop a severe infection which can be treated with supportive care in hospital.

5: What should you do if you come into contact with someone who has measles?

If you come into contact with someone who has measles and you are unvaccinated, there are two things you can do:

  1. Within three days of being exposed, you can get the MMR vaccine which can help prevent infection.
  2. Within six days of being exposed, you may be eligible to get an immunoglobulin injection to help fight the infection.
Please remember to call the health care facility ahead of time if you think you've been exposed to measles so proper precautions can be made to protect others. For more information about vaccinations and measles, visit the Toronto Public Health website.

Photo Credit: Man receiving a vaccination, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, James Gathany, Public Health Image Library.

March 5, 2015

The Pulse banner This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of The Pulse, North York General Hospital's community newsletter. Learn more
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