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How To Keep Your Baby Safe During A Measles Outbreak

Most babies don't get their first measles vaccine until 12-15 months.
Already, 28 cases of measles have been reported in Canada this year.
Jon Feingersh Photography Inc via Getty Images
Already, 28 cases of measles have been reported in Canada this year.

It seems like there's a new case every day, so you're not alone if you're worried about your little one getting measles.

"Absolutely, I think parents are worried, and there is reason to because it is such a highly-infectious virus," Dr. Michelle Ponti, a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society's (CPS) Public Education Advisory Committee and a pediatrician in London, Ont., told HuffPost Canada on Monday.

"[But] there are lots of things you can do to protect yourself and your children, so I think, first of all, take a deep breath and don't panic."

Watch: 5 worrying facts about measles. Story continues below.

Two new cases of measles were confirmed on Vancouver Island Saturday, which brings the total recent infections in British Columbia to 25, Canadian Press reports. On Sunday, Ottawa Public Health issued a warning that a second case of measles had been confirmed in Canada's capital city. And a Montreal hospital is now warning people about measles exposure after an employee worked there while contagious.

Already, 28 cases of measles have been reported in Canada this year, according to the most recent weekly report from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which only monitors up to March 23 and doesn't include the newest cases. There were 29 cases total for all of 2018, by comparison.

Outbreak is linked to the anti-vaccine movement

There's an outbreak of the disease affecting a large number of countries around the world, PHAC notes, and there is no cure for the virus, which can have serious complications and be fatal. But prevention can and should be simple: two doses of the measles vaccine "is almost 100 per cent effective," PHAC said.

The current outbreak is linked to the anti-vaccination movement, and non-vaccinated or under-vaccinated travellers bringing the virus back to Canada, the agency adds.

"Vaccination rates in Canada have declined since measles was declared eliminated in 1998. The decline in vaccination rates has been the result of vaccine hesitancy, as well as complacency about the risks of the diseases vaccines prevent," PHAC notes on its website.

Most babies don't get their first measles vaccine until they're one year old.
Ariel Skelley via Getty Images
Most babies don't get their first measles vaccine until they're one year old.

But even the most vaccine-enthusiastic parents of very young children and babies could still have reason to worry. The first measles vaccine is typically given at 12-15 months of age, and the second shot (the booster) is typically given either at 18 months or between four to six years old, CPS notes.

Immunity after the first dose is close to 85 to 95 per cent, Ponti said.

That said, here's how parents can protect their young kids from measles.

Ask about moving up your kid's vaccinations

"If you are a vaccinated individual, you should really not be worried at all. If your children are not immunized or under-immunized, then I think step one is to see if they are able to get the vaccine," Ponti said.

Most kids in Ontario get their second dose around the time they begin school, Ponti said, but if you're in an outbreak situation, talk to your health-care provider about whether your child can get their booster dose earlier. It's also possible to get a dose of the vaccine as young as six months if you're travelling or in the midst of an outbreak, she added.

If your kid is still too young for the vaccine, your best defence is to make sure you and every adult around that child has up-to-date vaccines, Ponti said.

Avoid unnecessary travel

"I would really highly advise against any non-essential travel with an unimmunized infant or even an under-immunized infant," Ponti said.

Avoid areas that have known outbreaks, of course, but also consider avoiding any air travel, which can increase exposure to new viruses and germs, she added.

Air travel isn't recommended for unimmunized babies.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images
Air travel isn't recommended for unimmunized babies.

"Air travel itself places an unimmunized infant at higher risk."

Keep up routine health practices

Lots of hand washing, using hand sanitizer, and cleaning of surfaces are always a good idea, Ponti said.

Measles can be spread by touching a contaminated surface such as a doorknob or shopping cart, PHAC notes. But it can also be spread through the air — even an hour after an infected person has left the room — so scrubbing of hands and surfaces is not enough.

"If you have not been vaccinated or already had measles, you will probably get it if you are in the same room as someone who has it," CPS said on its website.

Watch for the common signs and symptoms

The virus usually starts with a fever, cough, and runny nose, similar to a common cold, Ponti said. But there are also some classic symptoms to watch for: red and watery eyes, small white spots in the mouth, and a red, blotchy rash that starts on the face and works its way down the body.

If you think your child has the measles, call your doctor immediately, but let the receptionist know your suspicion.

"He should not wait in the same room as other children," CPS notes.

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