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Measles warning issued for passengers on Abu Dhabi-Toronto flight

A public-health nurse prepares a measles-vaccine injection.


There's a new flashpoint in the series of measles cases that have arisen lately across Canada with public-health officials in suburban Toronto reporting over the weekend that passengers on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Toronto's Pearson airport may be at risk of being infected with measles.

Officials with Peel Public Health said Sunday they issued the alert about the March 25 Etihad Airways flight after discovering that a baby on board had tested positive for the illness, which has raised concerns in B.C.'s Fraser Valley and in Alberta.

While there are no other confirmed cases of measles as a result, the agency has highlighted the situation, and is encouraging those who may have been exposed to be sure they have been immunized and look for signs of the illness.

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"We're taking the necessary steps. We can't control that which may have happened in the past," Eileen de Villa, associate medical health officer for Peel Region, said in an interview on Sunday.

"What we can do is advise people of what course of action they can take to protect themselves."

Dr. de Villa said it was an unusual case.

She also said she was not in a position to comment on other cases elsewhere in Canada, but there are a few basic realities. "Measles is relatively uncommon in Canada, but it is quite common in other parts of the world.

"Where there have been outbreaks in Canada with a large number of cases, or a cluster of cases, those have usually been in association with particular communities or populations where the immunization rate is not as high."

For about a month, British Columbia has been grappling with a massive outbreak of measles in the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver with some religious communities linked to the illness wary about being vaccinated.

On Sunday, an official with Fraser Health – the regional health authority – said that, as of Friday, there are now 353 cases of measles in the eastern region of the Valley. That's up from 320 cases last Monday.

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There have also been at least three cases reported in Hamilton, Ontario prompting Ontario's chief medical office to warn that some Canadians travelling abroad are bringing the disease home as a result of foreign travels. Overall, 11 cases have been reported in Ontario this year.

At least five cases have also been reported in Calgary with what a health-services advisory described as "multiple exposure settings including a Calgary-area high school." More than 100 unimmunized staff and students at the school were sent home for two weeks and will not be allowed back until they can provide proof of immunization. Last week, the authority also reported a case in Edmonton as well as Red Deer.

Symptoms for measles, which has a fatality rate of one in 3,000 cases, include a high fever, runny nose and rash. The disease had been thought to have been eradicated in Canada due to vaccinations.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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