Olympic bound? Make sure your measles vaccination is up to date!

Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012


The end of July is just around the corner and more than a million people from around the world are expected to make their way to London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. 

Both the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada have issued alerts advising travelers of ongoing measles outbreaks in Europe.  Measles has been on the rise in many regions of the world over the last few years.  In Europe, it had been under control until a 1998 study claimed to show a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism.  Immunization rates declined after this study gained wide-spread publicity. Fortunately this study has now been discredited, and retracted by the British Medical Journal who determined it to be an “elaborate fraud”.  Yet despite this, immunization rates in several European countries are still too low to effectively control measles. This has been highlighted by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s recent report that over 30 000 people in Europe became infected with measles last year. This year, approximately 3000 cases were reported between January and April. 

Measles is highly contagious and spreads through the air very easily.  People can easily spread the virus while on a plane, train or in a crowded sports venue even before they know they are infected. With travelers from around the world congregating in one place and at one time during the Olympic Games, there is a risk of measles outbreak, both at the Games and in travelers’ home countries, if individuals return home with the virus. According to the BCCDC, an outbreak of almost 800 measles cases in Quebec in 2011 resulted from infected European travelers visiting the area. In 2010, B.C. had an outbreak of about 80 cases following the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. 

Measles is a potentially serious disease. One person in every 1000 with measles will develop encephalitis, which can lead to convulsions, deafness or mental disability.  There is also the real risk that one person in every 3000 with measles will die of complications. Measles starts with a cough, cold-like symptoms and red eyes, and fever. Then a rash starting on the face and neck and spreading to the trunk and limbs appears. If you have these symptoms, you should stay away from others and call your doctor immediately. 

The best way to protect yourself and others against measles is to get vaccinated. The MMR vaccine is available at no charge for anyone who was born after 1956 and does not have a record of receiving two doses. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are given to children in B.C. as part of their routine immunization schedule. If you, or your child, haven’t received two doses of the MMR vaccine, talk to your health care provider about getting immunized as soon as possible!

Add vaccinations to your travel list and help ensure a healthy Olympic Games!  

For more information on travel vaccines visit: http://immunizebc.ca/travel-vaccinations.