Isolation key to containing measles outbreak at Chilliwack school

Rosedale's Mount Cheam Christian school closed two days before its schedule spring break this week in the midst of a measles outbreak.
— image credit: Web

The Fraser Health Authority’s (FHA) chief medical health officer isn’t interested in debating the merits of vaccination with the ultra-orthodox religious community in Chilliwack caught up in another infectious disease outbreak—he just wants them to stay home.

“The message is, we respect your belief system, please try and minimize the impact on the community by isolating yourself if you’re sick,” Dr. Paul Van Buynder told the Times Tuesday.

Last week, Fraser Health alerted the public to a measles outbreak at a school in Chilliwack in “a community with traditionally low immunization rates.”

The health authority didn’t name the school (Rosedale’s Mt. Cheam Christian school) or the religious community (the Reformed Congregation of North America) but said two confirmed cases had been reported and health officials were following up with dozens more.

By the time it closed two days early for spring break Monday, the K-12 school on Yale Road was dealing with up to 100 cases of the highly infectious disease, according to Van Buynder.

He said Fraser Health found out about the measles well into the outbreak from a family with nine children, seven of whom came down with the disease.

“This is a community with a belief system against vaccination,” Van Buynder said, “and they don’t tend to let us know. What I know about this outbreak is that it’s again linked to the outbreak in Holland. It’s in the orthodox Protestant community. There were a group of people who visited in late January to Holland, to a family that had measles. They’ve come back and become sick. It’s now spreading dramatically across the school, and by the time we find out about it, it’s pretty well established.”

The Reformed Congregation of North America in Chilliwack, which is closely tied to the ultra-orthodox Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Holland, has been vulnerable to infectious diseases ranging from polio in the 1970s and mumps in 2008, to whooping cough two years ago.

Its members reject vaccination on the grounds that immunizing their children challenges the will of God.

For Van Buynder that makes for a whole different conversation than the one he has with people who reject vaccination because they’re worried about adverse side effects.

“This is a different group, and we need to deal with it differently,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think pointing fingers or even passing a law to force people to get immunized would make much difference, so Fraser Health works to provide care as best it can.

“We respect the religious beliefs of these people and that they won’t get vaccinated,” Van Buynder said. “So what we try and do is minimize the spread from that community into the general community, and particularly to the children under the age of one who may become infected when they’re too young to be vaccinated and who are very likely to end up in hospital with very severe consequences.”

With spring break imminent last week, health officials’ biggest concern was that families infected with the disease would travel.

“The last thing we want is a whole batch of them with measles getting on airplanes because you actually spread it to the whole plane if you do that,” Van Buynder said.

Conversations with church and school officials, however, have been fruitful.

“There have been some really positive steps so far from the point of view of cancellation of trips during spring break and other activities to protect the public, and that’s what we’re really trying to do,” Van Buynder said.


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