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Students at Burnaby school warned of measles risk

Miles Elliott, 2-months-old, is held by his mother, Pam Elliott, as he receives a vaccination for diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, and haemophilus influenza type b from public health nurse, Sallie Ann MacKay, at the Evergreen Community Health Centre in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday August 27, 2008. The clinic also administers mumps, measles and rubella vaccinations.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A measles outbreak in the Fraser Valley has shifted westward to Burnaby in a new case documented by health authorities.

A male student attended classes on March 6 and March 7 at the British Columbia Institute of Technology's Burnaby campus, and anyone who might have come in contact with the person faces potential exposure to measles.

Fraser Health and BCIT are especially concerned about 128 students who went to exams in building NE1, or what campus maps call the J.W. Inglis Building.

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Thousands of BCIT students return Monday after their spring break last week, but health officials are asking anyone with symptoms of measles to stay home. Signs of catching the highly contagious airborne disease include coughing, red and inflamed eyes, fever and a runny nose, followed three to seven days later by a rash that begins on the face and spreads to the arms and legs, Fraser Health officials warn.

Fraser Health issued an alert on March 8 about the virus in Fraser East communities, cautioning residents in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Abbotsford, Mission, Hope and Harrison Hot Springs.

Dozens of students at Mount Cheam Christian School in Chilliwack, 100 kilometres east of Vancouver, are suspected of having measles. More than 360 students enrolled at the private school, run by the Reformed Congregation of North America, are on spring break this week. Their break began last Thursday.

Members of the Reformed Congregation of North America don't believe in vaccinations due to religious objections and fears of side effects.

Residents who aren't vaccinated can spread measles quickly, said Paul Van Buynder, Fraser Health's chief medical health officer. An infected person who coughs or sneezes can spread the disease easily because tiny droplets in the air survive for hours, he noted.

Students who attended classes in building NE1 on March 6 or March 7 can return to BCIT on Monday, "if they have two documented doses of MMR [measles, mumps, rubella] vaccine, if they are born before 1970 or if they have had measles illness in the past," Dr. Van Buynder said.

BCIT won't be asking for proof of immunization, BCIT spokesman Dave Pinton said in an interview Sunday.

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Fraser Health describes Fraser East as a low-immunized region, a situation that has resulted in the emergence of clusters of measles infections in recent years, including last fall.

Last Thursday, Fraser Health said measles cases were recorded in the broader communities of Chilliwack and Agassiz, beyond "the previous school and religious group areas."

Vaccination clinics are scheduled for Chilliwack and Agassiz this week.

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