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Ontario sees first measles death in decades of tracking after young child dies

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A young child has died of measles in Ontario, marking the first death in the province from the highly contagious virus since tracking began in 1989, Public Health Ontario confirms.

The child, who was under the age of five, was not immunized against the virus, according to a report, which was published on Thursday. The death was reported in Hamilton.

Public Health Ontario says that there have been 22 confirmed cases of measles reported in the province in 2024. Of those individuals, 13 were children and nine were adults. Four of the adults were previously immunized, two were unimmunized, and two had an unknown immunization status.

The cases spanned across nine different public health units and the source of transmission in 15 or the 22 cases is believed to be travel, the report notes.

The highest number of cases were reported by Toronto Public Health and public health officials in Hamilton, which each confirmed six cases of measles in their regions respectively. 

Five cases required hospitalization and all of those cases were among children under the age of nine who were not vaccinated. The child who died was among the children who were hospitalized.

Officials warn that the highly infectious respiratory virus spreads easily to those who are not immunized or have not previously had measles. Infants, unimmunized pregnant individuals, and people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

“It is important to recognize that measles is an extremely transmissible infection and it just has a knack for finding unvaccinated and under vaccinated populations. So when we see the lower rates of measles vaccine and other vaccine preventable illness, even here in Ontario, if you import a case you can’t be surprised if you see some local transmission,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CP24 on Friday morning. “The key thing here is it is totally preventable.” 

Symptoms of the virus include fever, a red blotchy rash, red watery eyes and cough.

Bogoch said that while measles is not believed to be circulating locally there is “a lot of measles virus circulating globally."

He said while “we can’t control what happens outside our borders we can ensure people have access to vaccinations.”

“Obviously there was some disruption of public health services during the darkest days of the pandemic, some people may have missed a vaccine dose here or there and it is really important that p[people are up to date on their vaccinations,” he said.

Between 2013 and 2023, there were 101 confirmed cases of measles reported in Ontario.

The last time the province saw more than 20 cases of measles was in 2014, when 22 cases were confirmed.

A July report from Public Health Ontario previously showed that vaccination rates for measles have also slipped in recent years. For example, in Toronto, the percentage of seven-year-olds fully vaccinated for measles dropped from 80.2 per cent in the 2019-2020 school year to 38.9 per cent in the 2021-2022 school year.

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