07/12/2013 04:34 EDT | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Measles Outbreak In Whistler, Pemberton Reported By Officials

WHISTLER, B.C. - A measles outbreak in two more British Columbia communities could be a sign of more cases to come, says a medical health officer who is urging parents to get their children vaccinated.

Dr. Paul Martiquet of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said Friday he's concerned that eight cases of the highly contagious disease have been confirmed in the province since mid-June.

"It's been three years since we have seen measles (in B.C.)," he said.

Measles can be caught by just being in the same room with someone who has the disease.

Martiquet said one in every 3,000 Canadians with measles dies of the infection.

He said the four cases identified this week in Whistler and Pemberton are not linked to the four cases diagnosed in Bowen Island and the North Shore last month, raising questions about the outbreak's origins.

"It is possible that it's been brought in internationally, or it's possible that it's just been circulating in the community without us knowing," he said, adding it may be more likely that an overseas visitor to a tourism destination such as Whistler had the disease.

Martiquet said he is worried that false information about vaccinations has increased the likelihood of an outbreak.

"What we've seen over the years, especially with measles, is a decreased uptake of the vaccine based on faulty scientific studies that were done in the U.K. that turned out basically to be bogus," he said.

Martiquet said one study, which was published in the highly respected journal The Lancet in 1998, linked the measles vaccine to autism. It has since been retracted and the author, Andrew Wakefield, lost his medical licence in 2010.

"This a wake-up call," Martiquet said. "Measles is a killer. It can be prevented by a safe and effective vaccine, and we are requesting parents — especially with their newborns and infants — to avail themselves to the childhood vaccine series for measles that starts at 12 months, and a second dose at 18 months."

Officials recommend vaccinations for adults and for children over a year old if they not have received the two necessary doses.

Anyone who has already had the infection is immune and officials say adults born before 1970 are likely to be immune.

The last outbreak of measles in B.C. was in 2010, when 70 cases were diagnosed following the Olympics.

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