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Is the British Columbia measles outbreak out of control?

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The Fraser Valley in British Columbia is experiencing the largest measles outbreak in North America and there is a serious problem, the Globe and Mail reported on March 20. The public health authorities are noting that patients who have been advised to isolate themselves for the 21 day incubation period of the illness are refusing to do so. They are out and about, and the illness continues to spread.

“We are disappointed that people who are showing symptoms of measles are not isolating themselves as requested by Fraser Health – and as a result other people in the community are being exposed to this infectious disease,” said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, chief medical health officer with Fraser Health.

The measles outbreak was first detected March 8 when two students at Mount Cheam Christian School were diagnosed with the highly contagious respiratory illness, according to a story in the Chillwack Progress on March 20. The illness has become widespread in the school and is spreading into the community. News1130 is reporting that the authorities estimate there are about 100 measles cases thus far in the region.

Mount Cheam Christian School follows the teachings of the Reformed Congregation of North America. Rev. Adriaan Geuze, a pastor from the sect, appeared on CBC Radio's Early Edition on March 13 to dispute the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations. The CBC has made a podcast of the interview available at its website.

Fraser Health posted the latest schedule for vaccination clinics in the area on March 21. Medical Health Officer Dr. Lisa Mu told News1130 that most of the people associated with the school remain unvaccinated.

“The measles virus is circulating widely now in the Fraser Valley East communities and all individuals who live in those communities should consider themselves at risk for exposure and make sure that they are protected,” says Mu.

The measles outbreak in British Columbia is just two weeks old. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that "if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected with the measles virus." The potential exists for many more illnesses, perhaps hundreds. The refusal by patients to isolate themselves until no longer contagious is an uncommon and disturbing behavior.

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