Measles Spreading in Europe: What Canadian Travellers Need to Know

If you're planning a trip to Europe this summer, your pre-travel checklist just got a bit longer. Along with arranging your flight and accommodations, getting travel insurance and ensuring your passport is up-to-date, Canada's top doctor is urging you to add a measles vaccination to your to-do list. The highly-contagious disease is making a comeback in several European countries like Romania, where almost 2,000 cases of measles have been reported in the past year, and Italy where more than 1,000 people have been afflicted.

In contrast, last year in Canada there were just 11 cases of measles. This year however, there have been outbreaks in both Nova Scotia and Ontario that have resulted in 26 confirmed cases of measles. Almost all are linked to travel, which is why Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's interim chief medical officer of health, is encouraging Canadians to make sure your vaccinations are updated before you travel.

"About 30 per cent of those who get measles will have some kind of complication, and they range from ear infections to pneumonia to more severe complications such as encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain," Tam told The Canadian Press. “So it is not a benign disease.”

What to do before you travel

The Government of Canada urges travellers who aren't properly vaccinated against measles to get their shots at least six weeks before travelling. This is especially important for children, who are most at risk of the potentially-deadly disease. So how do you know if you're covered? Here are the government's guidelines for different age groups:

  • Infants (6 months to 12 months): If you plan to travel to a region where measles is a concern with an infant, the vaccine may be given as early as six months of age. Under these circumstances, the routine two dose series must be then restarted on or after your child's first birthday, for a total of three doses.
  • Children/adolescents (12 months to 17 years of age): Two doses of a measles-containing vaccine are recommended. The first dose should be given at 12-15 months of age and the second dose should be given at 18 months of age or any time thereafter, typically before they start school.
  • Adults born in or after 1970: Adults born in or after 1970 should make sure that they have received two doses of measles-containing vaccine.
  • Adults born before 1970: Adults born prior to 1970 should receive one dose of measles-containing vaccine unless there’s documented evidence of receiving measles-containing vaccine on or after their first birthday, lab evidence of immunity, or a history of having measles.

It can take up to 21 days for measles symptoms to emerge after you've been infected, but initial symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and irritability. You might also see small white spots appearing inside your mouth and throat and, several days later, a red blotchy rash may develop on your face and body.

If any of these symptoms arise, doctors urge you to seek medical attention but to call in advance, since measles is so infectious. There is no real treatment: most adults recover in 2-3 weeks and must stay home during that time.

Measles is much-more dangerous for children and people with weakened immune systems. Since the measles vaccine is often given with the mumps and rubella vaccines, getting vaccinated can also give you peace of mind for yourself and your children in the wake of mumps outbreaks, like the one seen recently in Toronto.

Beyond Europe: China and India are also trouble spots

Measles rates in several other countries, like China (listed as one of top 10 countries Canadians visit most) and India, are very high and the government strongly urges you to ensure your vaccinations are up to date before visiting these countries. In 2015, more than 80,000 cases of measles were reported in India, and more than 40,000 cases were reported in China.

If you're travelling this summer and wondering if you're at risk of getting measles, this map on worldwide measles cases from the World Health Organization is updated on a regular basis:

World Health Organization


Kanetix.ca can help you get peace of mind when making your travel plans. Find the best travel insurance for your needs, at the best price today.