Ontario child's death from measles is 1st in province since 1989 ...

17 May 2024


Hamilton child under 5 dies of measles: public health agency

In a report published Thursday, Public Health Ontario said the child was not vaccinated against the highly infectious respiratory virus. It's the first recorded death from measles in the province since 1989, as far back as Ontario's data goes.

Measles - Figure 1
Photo CBC.ca
1st measles death identified via provincial surveillance since 1989, Public Health Ontario says

CBC News

· Posted: May 17, 2024 7:29 AM EDT | Last Updated: 3 hours ago

A colourized electron transmission micrograph of measles virus particles. Cases of the highly infectious virus are on the rise globally. (CBC, UK Health Security Agency)

A Hamilton child under five years old has died of measles, says the city's public health agency. 

"This is a profoundly tragic situation where a young child has left us too soon with their whole life ahead of them," said Dr. Brendan Lew, Hamilton's associate medical officer of health, in a statement Friday. 

"To respect and protect the privacy of the child and their loved ones, we will not be speaking to further details of this individual case." 

It's the first such death in Ontario since 1989, when tracking began, according to Public Health Ontario (PHO). 

In an update published Thursday, PHO said the child was not vaccinated against the highly infectious respiratory virus. It did not indicate when the child died or their specific age.

"A measles-related death is a rare and tragic event. Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time," a spokesperson for PHO said in an email statement. 

Cases on the rise

Hamilton public health has confirmed six cases of the measles so far this year, said Lew. None of the individuals were vaccinated. 

Earlier this month, public health warned people about the possibility of measles exposure at a grocery store, apartment building and McMaster Children's Hospital after four members of the same household contracted the virus. 

Hamilton Health Sciences, which runs the children's hospital, said in a statement it could not confirm whether or not the child who died was in their care citing privacy reasons.

Measles has also been on the rise in both Ontario and elsewhere in Canada as cases increase globally, particularly in Europe, which has seen tens of thousands of infections over the last year.

Measles - Figure 2
Photo CBC.ca

There have been 22 cases in the province so far this year, PHO says — a level of infections already matching a recent high set in 2014, when there was the same number over the entire calendar year.

All of the cases were in people born after 1970, including 13 children. In 12 of those instances, the children were unimmunized, while the vaccination status of one was unknown.

Five infections, all in unvaccinated children under five years old, required hospitalization, the report says.

In an email statement, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health offered condolences to the family of the deceased child.

"Our heart goes out to the family that has tragically lost their child. Our thoughts are with them as they navigate this challenging time," the spokesperson said. "We remind all Ontarians to stay up to date with their vaccinations to ensure themselves, and their loved ones are protected against infectious diseases."

Speaking in Winnipeg on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the child's death "a tragedy that nobody wants to see."

"I can't imagine what that family is going through right now, but I do know as a parent that all of us want the absolute best for our kids," he said.

"I recommend that everyone listens to their doctors, their health professionals on how to keep their kids safe."

Travel a factor in most cases, agency says

Most of the total measles cases this year, 15 of 22, were linked to travel, PHO says.

"In Ontario, measles has been rare, owing to the successful elimination of measles in Canada and high immunization coverage. As a result, measles cases are predominantly associated with travel," the report says.

"Due to an increase in measles activity globally, Ontario has begun to see more cases of measles."

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases consultant at Toronto General Hospital, says Canadians planning to travel should ensure they are protected against the virus given the rise in infections abroad.

"The vaccine is extremely effective. It's safe, it's widely available, and it's free. Is it perfect? Of course not. Nothing's perfect, but it's really, really, really good," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.

WATCH | Bogoch on measles risks amid a global rise in cases: 

Infectious disease specialist on measles risk after Ontario child dies
A child under five years old has died of measles in Ontario, according to the province's public health agency. It’s the first such death in more than a decade. CBC’s Shannon Martin spoke with Dr. Isaac Bogoch about the measles vaccine and its efficacy.

Bogoch said interruptions to routine childhood vaccination schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic means that some young children may have missed a dose.

For Canadian children, the typical schedule is now two doses, both administered before they enter school. The first dose of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine should be given when a child is 12 to 15 months of age and the second at 18 months, or any time after that, but no later than around school entry, notes the Canadian immunization guide. 

For infants set to travel internationally with their caregivers, especially to destinations with high rates of measles infection, the first shot can be moved up to six months in some cases, Bogoch said.

With files from Samantha Beattie, Santiago Arias Orozco and The Canadian Press

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