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Fraser Health won't identify school with measles outbreak

Fraser Health Authority isn't identifying the school where two students have contracted measles, except to say they're in "a community with traditionally low immunization rates." A spokesperson for Fraser Health told The Tyee it's investigating the case but cited the "collaborative and sensitive nature of this work" as the reason for not publicizing the school's name.

In a March 8 news release, Fraser Health stated:

The Chief Medical Health Officer (CMHO) of Fraser Health is warning residents living in Fraser East communities (Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope) of a measles outbreak in low immunized areas of the region.

The most recent exposure to this highly contagious virus has occurred in a school in Chilliwack in a community with traditionally low immunization rates. Two confirmed cases of measles have been reported and Fraser Health is following up on dozens of linked suspected cases.

Public Health staff are contacting the affected families directly to offer immunoglobulin or vaccine in order to reduce the chance of the infection developing. Of particular concern is students and families preparing for Spring Break. Fraser Health is advising individuals who may have been exposed to the virus to refrain from travelling until they have been cleared by Public Health.

An online survey of Chilliwack websites for public and private schools revealed no announcements, although John Calvin School did display a link to a website with information on immunizations against H1N1 seasonal flu. The Chilliwack Progress newspaper, in a March 10 update of its March 8 report, stated that the outbreak was not related to any of the public schools in the district. A district spokesperson confirmed that the superintendent had this morning advised district administrators to that effect.

Since a recent measles outbreak in Ottawa was prominently reported in local and national media, with St. Stephen Catholic School mentioned, The Tyee asked Fraser Health why a similar policy was not being used in this case. A spokesperson replied:

Fraser Health's Public Health teams are currently conducting investigations into the measles outbreak in Fraser East and instituting control measures.

Releasing the name of the school may jeopardize the collaborative and sensitive nature of this work. The well-being of our communities is very important to us, and we want to reassure the public that not releasing the name of the school at this time does not pose a risk to the public.

We continue to remind people that the most effective protection against the virus is two doses of the vaccine which is free to all those born in or after 1957. Residents are encouraged to contact their regular health provider to receive the vaccination.

If residents suspect they have been exposed or have developed symptoms, they should see their medical practitioner and notify the medical practitioner's office before arriving in order to prevent the spread of the disease to others at the clinic.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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