Provincial health officials say that measles outbreaks are on the rise and are urging parents in Calgary to immunize their children against the highly contagious disease.

This week, parents throughout Alberta will be receiving a letter from their children’s schools warning them about recent measles outbreaks around the world, with the main goal of getting them to vaccinate their children, especially if they are going to be travelling in the near future.

Last year, there were 29 cases of measles in Alberta, with zero the year before that.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease that has a long incubation period. That helps it spread to others before any symptoms begin to appear.

In severe cases of the diease, it can permanently damage vision and brain function.

There is no specific treatment of measles, but most with uncomplicated cases can recover with rest and common medication to relieve symptoms.

Vaccines for measles have been available on the market since the 1960s.

Health officials are blaming the lack of vaccination on a rising tide of vaccine abstainers, people who decline taking part in the regular vaccination program offered by the province.

Phil Herman says he doesn’t vaccinate his kids, saying that getting sick is a part of life, its ‘human nature’.

Herman says he knows that lots of people are mad with his decision. “I mean, there are times my kids are in school so of course there are certain other parents that I know will make comments about that, and ask me why I haven’t and I will simply say ‘why have you?’”

He says he wasn’t vaccinated as a child and says he’s spoken to doctors on both sides of the argument before making that same choice for his kids.

Dr. Judy Macdonald with the Alberta Health Services says that all Albertans have a responsibility by taking part in the vaccination program. “We protect ourselves by getting immunized, but we also protect those that can’t get immunized or can’t respond to vaccine.”

Some provinces require kids to be vaccinated before they can even attend classes, but Alberta isn’t one of them, yet.

Steve Buick with the AHS says that vaccine refusal isn’t a big enough issue so far.

“If rates were to go down substantially from here, if this situation changes, we would have to look at a different response because we just don’t think it’s acceptable to expose people to high risk of acquiring a contagious disease from other people.”

There are procedures in place if a student or teacher comes down with the disease. There were nine cases of measles in Calgary last year.