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NWT declares measles outbreak in Inuvik after second case

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The NWT's chief public health officer has declared an outbreak of measles in Inuvik following the confirmation of a second case.

Measles is a highly contagious and infectious disease. A first case was identified in mid-February in an unvaccinated child returning to Inuvik by air from a foreign destination.

"A second person developed measles, showing symptoms on February 28, 2019," read a health advisory issued on Wednesday afternoon. "This brings the number of individuals with measles in the NWT to two, both in Inuvik."

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The second case is a partially vaccinated individual who had received one dose of vaccine but not two, as is normally recommended, chief public health officer Kami Kandola said.

Kandola said NWT residents without immunization should be on their guard for most of the month at least.

"It's possible that more individuals who are not immune may develop measles," read the advisory. "At present, we feel the timeframe for the increased risk of another individual developing measles extends to approximately March 26, 2019."

The advisory stated: "At this time we do not expect other individuals outside of Inuvik to develop measles."

At-risk residents include those born after 1970 who have not received two doses of a measles-containing vaccine.

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People born before 1970 are generally considered to have acquired natural immunity.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Tiny white spots with blue-white centres on a red background, found inside the mouth on the inner cheek lining
  • A skin rash with large, flat blotches

"If you develop symptoms, remain at home and call your healthcare provider immediately," the advisory stated. "Calling ahead ensures health facilities can take precautions to prevent transmission of measles to others."

The chief public health officer provided the following guide to locations in Inuvik at which people may have been exposed to measles:

Anyone present at the above locations at the times shown may have been exposed to measles, the NWT government said in a health advisory
Anyone present at the above locations at the times shown may have been exposed to measles, the NWT government said in a health advisory.

"Any non-immune individuals who are exposed to measles should immediately contact their local public health unit or healthcare provider to review their option of being immunized," stated the advisory.

"If you are not sure if you or your child are adequately immunized, you will need to book an appointment with your local public health unit. If you are in Inuvik, please call 867-777-7246."

The NWT is not the only jurisdiction to be affected by measles.

An outbreak has been ongoing in British Columbia since mid-February, while a range of outbreaks in the US have seen dozens of reported cases.

The latest federal measles report, for the period up to February 16, documents eight Canadian cases so far this calendar year – not including the two in the Northwest Territories, which had not been reported at the time.

The disease killed 72 people in Europe in 2018 according to World Health Organization figures, while Madagascar has been dealing with a deadly outbreak.

The World Health Organization recently declared the anti-vaccination movement to be one of 2019’s top 10 health threats, and UNICEF – the United Nations Children's Fund – stated 98 percent of countries reported an increase in measles cases last year.

"This is a wake-up call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease – a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore last week.