As a measles outbreak continues in Inuvik, health officials are documenting hundreds of people identified as having contact with the two confirmed cases to date.
So far, 267 people are known to have been in contact with the unvaccinated child who formed the first case. Public health officials are still working out who had contact with a second case, confirmed earlier this week.
Cabin Radio spoke to one Yellowknife woman – not vaccinated as a child – who was told by health workers to quarantine herself at home after realizing she had been in Edmonton Airport at the same time as the infected child in mid-February.
Ady McLeod said she spent 10 days confined to her home as a result, waiting to see if symptoms would develop.
She is one of 15 people so far “asked to stay home as a precautionary measure as they could not provide documentation of immunization,” according to Department of Health spokesperson Umesh Sutendra.
“Public health officials continue to focus on identifying those who were in contact with both individuals with measles,” Sutendra said.
“Officials identified 267 contacts to the first person, of which 160 were airline passengers.
“For measles, the period of time where individuals may still become sick after exposure is 21 days. March 6 was the last day of this incubation period for airline contacts. No new cases related to airline contact were reported.”
McLeod’s informal quarantine expired on Wednesday, which is when Cabin Radio spoke to her about the experience – and the apology she has received from her parents for not having been vaccinated as a child.
Listen to this interview in full on the Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast for Thursday, March 7.
This interview was recorded on March 6, 2019.
Ollie Williams: What happened to you?
Ady McLeod: Well, for the last week and a half, I have been stuck at home on my couch in quarantine because I came in contact with measles.
Why would you end up quarantined because of that?
I was in Edmonton Airport at the exact same time as the first kid who had the outbreak in Inuvik, and I was not vaccinated as a kid. And so public health was worried that I could develop symptoms within the three-week window after contact. So they told me to stay home.
So how did you find out in the first place? Did you just see the health advisory go out and think, ‘Oh, hang on,’ when you saw the dates?
I had actually been on the road for about two weeks after the point of contact and didn’t know until the person I was travelling with – on the first trip, on the day of contact – texted me and said, ‘Hey, I have a cold, but I’m worried it’s measles, because we might have come in contact.’
Immediately I panicked and called public health.
Now, did you know you weren’t vaccinated? Because sometimes people grow up… their memories of what happened to them as a kid are hazy… did you know?
I did know. This was weird timing because, earlier this year, my parents had gotten in contact with me and just slyly said, ‘Hey, are you able to check whether or not you have your measles and a couple other vaccines?’ And I checked, and I confirmed that I did not.
Measles outbreak: Read our report, including what to do if you’re concerned
And they were like, ‘Huh, OK, maybe you should go get those. We need to apologize for being anti-vaxxers when you were a child. Please go protect yourself.’ But I am still waiting for an NWT health card and so it just hadn’t happened yet.
When you went to public health, how did that conversation go? How did you go from, ‘Hey, I think I might have been in the same place at the same time, and I’m not vaccinated,’ to, ‘You’re on lockdown’?
Well, I called them, they collected information, I had signed and sent off a consent form for them to check my other vaccination history. Essentially, they said, ‘OK, stay home, we’ll come to your house.’
Later that day they came to my house, they gave me my booster shot, and they gave me a note that said: ‘Tell your employers you’re not allowed to leave your home until March 6. That will be three weeks after the point of contact, and you should be fine if you’re not sick.’
I know a lot of people who would pay a lot of money for that kind of note.
It was kind-of nice. It coincided with grant-writing season so I was able to, you know, first few days, sit down, get my NWT Arts Council application in, focus on the start of a new contract, didn’t have to worry about my other jobs. I got to focus on what really mattered.
All joking aside, did it feel weird to have this happen to you and to be in the middle of a measles crisis and be confined to your home?
It did. It’s a combination of terrifying – because I could be the Typhoid Mary of our generation – and almost confusing, a little bit comedic, because I know I’m not sick, and I don’t have any symptoms. And I don’t have to warn anybody I’ve been in contact with, because I don’t have symptoms.
But there’s still this possibility I could get sick, and so I’m just sitting at home knowing I’m fine, confused, but also very willing to stay at home and not get people sick.
You mentioned your parents have sort-of reneged on the earlier anti-vax standpoint. How apologetic have they been?
Decently apologetic. My mom has been almost laughably apologetic since my reveal that I may have come in contact with measles.
They’re obviously very scared that their hippie politics of the 90s came back and bit them in the ass but, you know, it’s all ended well. They got the best-case scenario out of this situation!