03/08/2014 17:26 EST | Updated 05/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Measles outbreak in east Fraser Valley prompts warning

Fraser Health has issued an outbreak warning to residents of Fraser East communities after confirming two cases of measles, with dozens more cases suspected.

The health authority's warning extends to residents living in Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.

"The most recent exposure to this highly contagious virus has occurred in a school in Chilliwack in a community with traditionally low immunization rates," Fraser Health said in a written statement Saturday afternoon. "Two confirmed cases of measles have been reported and Fraser Health is following up on dozens of linked suspected cases."

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder says the agency is concerned about the potential for the virus to spread during spring break travel.

“We are urging individuals who may have been exposed to the virus to contact their local Public Health Unit to be cleared before travelling during Spring Break," he said in a written statement.

"The potential for this virus to spread as a result is very concerning...  We are encouraging everyone who has not yet been vaccinated against measles to contact their doctor or health provider to receive the free MMR vaccine.”

Fraser Health said its staff are contacting affected families directly to offer immunoglobulin or vaccine, which is free to anyone born in or after 1957.

Fraser Health says relatively low immunization rates in some parts of Fraser Valley's eastern areas have led to clusters of measles outbreaks in previous years; including an outbreak last fall.

The most effective protection against the virus is two doses of the vaccine which is free to all those born in or after 1957.