In recent weeks, cases of the childhood illness have been showing up in Canada. While there has only been a handful reported, including here in Saskatchewan, it has given pause for thought in the medical community.  

“First and foremost, in Canada, we do not have measles unless, and only when, it’s imported,” explained Doctor David Torr. He is a medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. He noted the imported cases come from when someone from Canada has travelled to somewhere where measles are still around, or if it is someone who is coming to Canada from one of those destinations. In both of those situations, it is usually people who have not been vaccinated. 

The number of cases of measles here in Canada is small, but there is a concern elsewhere and it is on the radar of health professionals here.  

“There’s been a real surge of measles cases around the world, in many other countries and south of us,” Dr. Torr continued. “In the U.S., they’re dealing with quite a number of outbreaks, both in schools and in various communities because of low immunization or incomplete immunization in those particular communities.” 

The immunization for measles comes at a young age, and is considered to be one of the most effective vaccines there is. The MMR vaccine, which covers mumps, measles and rubella, is administered shortly after 12 months, with the second around 18 months.  

The policy in place considered those who were born before 1970 to be immune to measles thanks to exposure to the virus, and those after have been able to receive the MMR. Those who are going to be travelling now, though, who were born before 1970 are recommended to get a booster dose if they plan on travelling.  

Part of the reason for the alarms to be going off when it comes to measles is how contagious it can be. 

“It is so easy to get measles,” Dr. Torr said, then provided some examples. “So, a person walking into a room with COVID, for example, will likely infect two or three people on average. A person who walks into a room of potentially vulnerable people, one person can infect 20 people within a very short period of time.” 

The effects of the illness on children can also cause a number of issues. One of the most severe is the fever associated with measles. Dr. Torr noted they can get high enough to cause convulsions and other complications with the brain. As well, while the body is fighting the measles, a lot of secondary infections can occur. Some of those include inflammation within the ear, inflammation of the brain, and complications in the eyes.  

With measles coming into the province, there was concern about it possibly spreading. However, the vaccination rates in Saskatchewan have helped to prevent that from happening. The lone case was just that – alone.  

“We did not get any secondary cases because the people around this person were all vaccinated, which shows how really efficient and good the vaccine is.” 

While there is a high percentage of the population that is immunized against measles, Dr. Torr noted there have been some variations in some communities.  

“We have noticed a delay in folks, especially after COVID, the delay bringing in their children, so at the two-year range, when we should have had two full doses in a two-year-old, we do have delays there,” the doctor stated, adding it does get better by age seven.  

So what do you do if you do end up with a case of measles? 

“We provide supportive treatment because we don’t have an exact cure for that, and it can be quite challenging,” Dr. Torr explained. Steps are taken to keep the temperature down, help those who aren’t eating well while they are ill, and watch for any potential complications that may arise. He also noted there is a magic bullet, so to speak, when it comes to measles.

"That's why we emphasize the vaccination. It's very effective, very efficient, it lasts literally for a lifetime."