Largest Measles Epidemic in North America in a Decade—Quebec, Canada, 2011: Contribution of Susceptibility, Serendipity, and Superspreading Events

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Abstract

Background. The largest measles epidemic in North America in the last decade, occurred in 2011 in Quebec, Canada, where rates of 1- and 2-dose vaccine coverage among children 3 years of age were 95%–97% and 90%, respectively, with 3%–5% unvaccinated.

Methods. Case patients identified through passive surveillance and outbreak investigation were contacted to determine clinical course, vaccination status, and possible source of infection.

Results. There were 21 measles importations and 725 cases. A superspreading event triggered by 1 importation resulted in sustained transmission and 678 cases. The overall incidence was 9.1 per 100 000; the highest incidence was in adolescents 12–17 years old (75.6 per 100 000), who comprised 56% of case patients. Among adolescents, 22% had received 2 vaccine doses. Outbreak investigation showed this proportion to have been an underestimate; active case finding identified 130% more cases among 2-dose recipients. Two-dose recipients had milder illness and a significantly lower risk of hospitalization than those who were unvaccinated or single-dose recipients.

Conclusions. A chance superspreading event revealed an overall level of immunity barely above the elimination threshold when unexpected vulnerability in 2-dose recipients was taken into account. Unvaccinated individuals remain the immunization priority, but a better understanding of susceptibility in 2-dose recipients is needed to define effective interventions if elimination is to be achieved.

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