Elliot Lake measles diagnosis false alarm

ELLIOT LAKE—While cases of measles are still being treated across Ontario, the virus has not yet travelled to Manitoulin and the surrounding area. The Expositor reported last week that there was a measles case in Elliot Lake, however the paper has since learned this was a false alarm.

“Test results reported today to Algoma Public Health (APH) confirm that the measles virus isolated from the Elliot Lake child are from the vaccine strain of the virus,” stated an APH press release on February 27. “The results indicate that the child had been immunized against measles but was not contagious to others.”

“These test results are very good news and we are breathing a sigh of relief that measles is not circulating in the community,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, acting medical officer of health for APH. “Individuals who were excluded from daycare and health care can now return to these settings. It is highly likely that the illness was caused by another virus. There are a number of childhood viruses that cause elevated temperatures and rashes and we may never know what caused illness in this child. The child was immunized in the fall, making the chances very low that tests would show the vaccine virus still present.”

The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine contains a weakened strain of the measles virus, notes the press release. Post-vaccination testing may show the measles vaccine virus is present. However, this does not mean that the person has measles. After receiving a vaccination, roughly five percent of children can have a general feeling of being unwell, fever and sometimes a rash. However, this usually occurs from six to 23 days after immunization with measles vaccine.

“It was very reasonable to presume that this was a case of measles and act right away in order to protect people,” said Dr. Shelley Deeks, medical director of immunization and vaccine-preventable diseases at Public Health Ontario. “Measles is the most infectious vaccine-preventable disease and only timely follow up by public health and quick access to immunization will halt its spread.”

Public health acted quickly and in accordance with provincial guidelines on Sunday (February 22) when they alerted the Elliot Lake community and advised parents, staff at St. Joseph’s General Hospital and hospital emergency room contacts to ensure they were protected against measles.

“The Elliot Lake community pulled together and responded quickly to protect the community and our kids,” said Jon Bouma, acting director of clinical services for APH. “I want to thank parents, health care workers and citizens who all stepped up, and I would like to recognize the inconvenience this may have caused. Any children excluded from daycare can now return immediately.”

Public health officials have been waiting for these results as they piece together the puzzle of how the child contracted measles. All measles specimens are sent to Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory for genetic analysis to identify the virus strain. Last week’s results mean that there is no evidence of wild-type measles virus (contagious measles passed from one person to another) circulating in Elliot Lake.

As on Monday, March 2, there were 18 cases of measles in Ontario, according to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The breakdown includes 10 cases in Toronto, one in York Region, six in Niagara Region and one in Halton Region.