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UPDATE: Chilliwack measles outbreak prompts health warning

Two cases of measles have been confirmed at Mount Cheam Christian School with fear of several more in the Eastern Fraser Valley.

The private school, located in East Chilliwack, was closed as of Monday as a result.

“We are currently dealing with a number of confirmed cases of measles in our school community,” school administrator Stephen Hoogendijk told The Progress Monday morning. “For this reason, we made our spring break start [Monday] instead of this Wednesday and have frequent contact with Fraser Health in order to discuss what should be done.”

CTV Vancouver reported Monday evening the two confirmed cases were the children of school principal Jan Neels.

When contacted by The Progress, Neels referred all questions to Fraser Health.

The Chilliwack public school district has confirmed the measles outbreak is not related to any of its schools.

The measles outbreak, which first came to light late last week, has Fraser Health’s chief medical officer urging Chilliwack residents who may have been exposed to the virus not to travel during spring break.

Dr. Paul Van Buynder said two cases have been confirmed so far and Fraser Health is following up on about 100 suspected cases in the Eastern Fraser Valley.

Fraser Health said the cases occurred “in a community with traditionally low immunization rates.”

Mount Cheam Christian School, led by the Reformed Congregation of North America, a subset of the Reformed Congregation of the Netherlands, opposes vaccinations for religious beliefs.

The relatively low immunization rates has led to several clusters of the highly contagious virus in previous years; the most recent being in the fall of 2013.

“We are urging individuals who may have been exposed to the virus to contact their local public health unit to be cleared before traveling during spring break,” said Dr. Van Buynder.

“The potential for this virus to spread as a result is very concerning.”

Measles is an infection of the respiratory system, and is highly contagious. It is most serious for infants, who die at a rate of one for every 3,000 infections in developed countries.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red and inflamed eyes, and rash.

The most effective protection against the virus is two doses of the vaccine which is free to all those born in or after 1957.

In 2008, the same Chilliwack community was linked to a mumps outbreak.

The provincial government is watching closely.

Health Minister Terry Lake said he has not yet considered making vaccinations mandatory for school-aged children, as other provinces have, despite some schools in the Fraser Valley reporting no vaccinations at all.

“At this time we’re not going down that road, but we certainly want the public to be very aware of the importance of vaccination, and get the rates back up where they should be,” said Lake.

Public Health staff has contacted the affected families directly to offer immunoglobulin or vaccine in order to reduce the chance of the infection developing.

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.

~ with files from Tom Fletcher

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