New Brunswick Public Health wanted to urge the 2,500 athletes from across the Maritimes, Quebec and New England participating in the East Coast Games in Saint John this weekend to ensure their measles vaccines were up to date before arriving because of an ongoing outbreak.
But the information was never relayed because of an apparent miscommunication between health officials and event organizers, CBC News has learned.
Public Health sent a letter to organizers earlier this month, asking them to distribute it to all their athletes, coaches and volunteers, said spokesperson Alysha Elliott.
“Immunization is the best available intervention to prevent the spread of measles in our province and improve immunity,” the letter signed by the province’s deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Cristin Muecke said.
School-age children, adolescents and adults born in 1970 and later participating in the games should have received two doses of a measles-containing vaccine, she said.
The letter was addressed to New Brunswick and out-of-province health-care providers, but Public Health relied on event organizers to distribute it to participants, who were then to take it with them to their doctors if they had any concerns, said Elliott.
East Coast Games co-chair Keith Raynes says that’s not what he understood.
“They sent us a memo just for information in case we had any inquiries,” he said on Friday. “If there was any inquiries, then we were gonna send it out to the people who had concerns.”
“That’s the way it was, I mean, that’s the way we took it.”
Of the more than 2,000 participants, only one person asked about the measles outbreak, which has seen 12 cases confirmed in the past couple of months.
And that inquiry was before organizers received the Public Health letter, said Raynes.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that’s transmitted through the air or by direct contact with an infected individual.
The outbreak has forced the cancellation of some school trips, sporting events and provincial competitions, but other large events in the city have gone ahead as scheduled, including the World Cannabis Conference, which had about 650 attendees.
Elliott declined to comment on what, if any concerns Public Health has about the letter not being distributed to the East Coast Games participants.
She did confirm no new cases of measles have been confirmed since the last announced case on June 1.
The outbreak won’t be declared over until two incubation periods — roughly 40 days — pass since the last confirmed case, health officials have said.
Raynes said East Coast Games organizers are more worried about the rainy weather than measles.
“We’re not concerned with the measles because the first incubation period has passed — 21 days — and we’re past that now. And there’s been no new cases reported, which is awesome.
“And the athletes, their biggest concern now is competing here this weekend at the games and we’re looking forward to hosting them.”
Atlantic Canada’s largest annual multi-sport games
The East Coast Games is dubbed Atlantic Canada’s largest annual multi-sport games. It has tripled in size over the past five years, organizers have said.
This year will feature 20 sporting events at fields and facilities across Saint John and in some of the surrounding communities for three days ending Sunday.
The first confirmed case of measles was an individual who had recently travelled to Europe and visited the Saint John Regional Hospital’s emergency department before being diagnosed.
The majority of the other cases have been linked to Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis and the most recent case was someone at Hampton High School.
It can take up to 18 days after infection for measles symptoms to begin and people can be contagious for about four days before the tell-tale red blotchy rash appears.
Early symptoms may include fever, cough, runny nose, red or sore eyes, sleepiness, irritability and tiny white spots in the mouth.
About three to seven days after that is when the rash usually develops on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body.
Anyone exhibiting symptoms should self-isolate and call Tele-Care, the provincial health information line, for advice by dialling 811, said Russell.
People born before 1970 are considered immune to measles and anyone who has already had it is considered protected for life.