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Measles Claims the Life of Young Child in Ontario

Ontario sees first measles death in more than a decade

A young child in Ontario has died from measles, marking the first such death in the province in over a decade. The child, under the age of five, was not vaccinated against the highly contagious virus, according to a recent surveillance report from Public Health Ontario.

In 2024, five children in Ontario, all under the age of nine and unimmunized, have been hospitalized due to measles. One of these children has succumbed to the infection. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, expressed the gravity of the situation, stating it underscores the ongoing threat of vaccine-preventable diseases within Canada.

Shelly Bolotin, director of the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto, noted that measles was eliminated in Canada in 1998. This means that while cases can still be imported, the virus does not continuously circulate within the country. Given this, she suggests the last measles death in Canada likely occurred over 25 years ago.

A young child in Ontario has died of measles

Dr. Shaun Morris, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at the Hospital for Sick Children, emphasized that children under five are particularly vulnerable to severe outcomes from measles, including complications such as pneumonia, diarrheal diseases, and other secondary infections. Approximately 20% of measles cases require hospitalization.

Despite the success of routine vaccination programs in largely eliminating measles in Canada, a rise in global cases and declining vaccination rates have led to an increase in domestic cases. In the first five months of 2024, Canada has recorded at least 76 measles cases, more than six times the number recorded in 2023.

Public health officials are urging people to stay current with their measles vaccinations to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading within the country. Dr. Bogoch pointed out that while international travel can introduce measles cases into Canada, ensuring high vaccination coverage domestically can prevent onward transmission. He highlighted that measles remains a serious global health issue, causing 130,000 deaths annually worldwide.

Dr. Morris stressed the importance of vaccination for individual protection and community immunity, especially to protect young infants and others who cannot be vaccinated. He noted that one dose of the measles vaccine provides over 90% protection, and two doses offer nearly 100% protection throughout childhood.

So far in 2024, Ontario has reported 22 measles cases, matching a peak seen a decade ago in 2014. Of these, 13 cases involved children under nine, 12 of whom were unvaccinated. Most of the cases in Ontario this year have been linked to international travel, with 15 of the infected individuals having contracted the virus abroad. This has led to secondary infections among close contacts.

The steady increase in measles cases in Ontario remains a remarkable concern, with Dr. Morris reiterating that the ultimate goal is to achieve zero cases.

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