British Columbia Experiencing Biggest Measles Outbreak Ever; Spreading to US

Posted: Apr 02, 2014 5:00 PM

The Canadian province British Columbia is in the midst of its worst measles outbreak ever as over 300 cases have been reported in the past few weeks. The majority of the cases are located in areas close to the U.S. border with Washington State, and four Washington residents have been diagnosed with the disease.

The outbreak, now into its fourth week, is expected to continue for about another two weeks in the communities of Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.

On Monday, Health Minister Terry Lake credited the leadership of Dr. Paul Van Buynder and the health-care providers at Fraser Health for halting the spread of the disease that came from an unimmunized religious group.

The health authority has been working with schools, community groups and churches since the outbreak was declared on March 8 and has set up immunization clinics in public health and doctors’ offices.

The measles vaccine has existed in some form since the 1960s. The source of this outbreak stems from a religious community that does not vaccinate, but vaccination rates have been down since the publication of Andrew Wakefield's completely discredited study that blamed measles vaccines for autism.

Washington State has some of the lowest rates of vaccination in the country.

Measles can cause blindness, brain damage, and in rare cases, death. While the vaccine may wear off over time, a sustained level of herd immunity would protect this small percentage of people who were not vaccinated from getting a disease. As vaccination rates have declined, the herd immunity has weakened, leading to increased rates of infection.

A new article published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that brain cells that fail to mature in the womb cause autism.

This scary outbreak is a reminder that while these diseases may be mostly eradicated in the United States, it is still important to protect oneself against them.