Saskatchewan’s first suspected case of measles is not being linked to an outbreak in southern Alberta, but that has not left Saskatchewan health officials breathing any easier.
With Regina preparing for several high-profile events, including the 101st Grey Cup game, Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical officer, acknowledged “a suspected” case of measles had been reported with “some history of travel to southern Alberta.” But Dr. Shahab was quick to add, “This case is not currently considered linked to the Alberta outbreak. The symptoms were mild and the patient is fully recovered. … Even so, we still have to raise awareness.”
The Alberta cases were considered severe.
Given how far and how quickly the contagious disease can spread, Saskatchewan went on alert not long after Alberta Health Services reported its first case in late October – a Grade 9 student at the Coaldale Christian School. Southern Alberta has low immunization rates, and so far, 20 cases have been confirmed in the Lethbridge area.
Saskatchewan health officials took to reminding people that measles has not been eradicated and that vaccinations and booster shots are a necessary defence.
“We are fairly close in proximity [to southern Alberta], and there are lots of cultural ties, family ties and business reasons for people to go back and forth,” said Dr. Shahab, who is based in Regina. “The last three years, we’ve been increasingly aware of measles. Last year, we had two cases in Regina in the spring and four cases in the fall. In Saskatoon and Prince Albert, we had two cases. So in recent years, we had eight cases and we did a lot to boost immunization rates.”
Saskatchewan’s immunization rate is 92 per cent for two doses of the measles vaccine. In Alberta, the rate sits at 85 per cent, well off the stated goal of 98 per cent to achieve what is known as herd immunity. Immunization is not mandatory in either province, yet both set up vaccination clinics and assessment centres.
In southern Alberta alone, the AHS has administered more than 2,000 vaccination doses in less than three weeks.
In Regina, staying measles free is about to become a necessity. On Sunday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders host the B.C. Lions in a Canadian Football League playoff game that should draw more than 30,000 spectators to Mosaic Stadium. On Monday, the Canadian Western Agribition begins – a six-day livestock/trade show that includes the Canadian Cowboys Association Finals rodeo. Closing out the month is a sold-out Grey Cup with 50,000 people .