Older Aussies and travellers across the country, who didn’t have measles as a child and haven’t been vaccinated, are being warned over a flurry of outbreaks of the disease which can have serious implications if caught by adults.
According to the Australian National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, there have been 172 notifications of measles in Australia so far in 2019, compared to 103 cases in 2018. In fact, in the past month alone there have been new cases of measles in Perth, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Cairns.
Public health expert Professor David Durrheim, from the University of Newcastle, said travellers who are under-immunised are most likely responsible for the recent spike in measles cases in Australia. The Australian Academy of Science is now urging Australians heading overseas to make sure their measles vaccinations are up to date.
Measles remains a common illness in many parts of the world, including the Philippines, India, Indonesia (including Bali), Vietnam and Thailand – all of which are popular destinations for Australian travellers. Outbreaks have also occurred in destinations that a lot of Australians might consider ‘low risk’ for getting sick including parts of Europe, the United States and New Zealand.
“We are surrounded by countries that are experiencing large outbreaks and particularly countries that Australians frequent for holidaying or business purposes, [so] it’s really important people check their vaccination status,” he explains.
“The Philippines has had a very large outbreak with large numbers of deaths in young children. There have been outbreaks in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.”
Meanwhile, Professor Ian Frazer from the University of Queensland said it takes just one person to come into the country with measles and the virus can spread.
“It’s not just the unvaccinated who pose a risk to public health: many people in Australia may be under-vaccinated without realising it,” he said.
Frazer said two doses of the MMR vaccine (a vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella) provide lifelong protection. He added: “Check your vaccination records and if in doubt about whether you’ve had two doses speak with your GP. It is safe to have another MMR vaccine if you don’t have evidence of a second dose. This ensures you’ve got the best possible protection.”
Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that can cause serious illness, particularly in very young children and adults. Meanwhile, older people who weren’t vaccinated against measles and didn’t have it as a child are also at risk, particularly because a case of measles can lead to more serious illnesses, including shingles and pneumonia.
Common measles symptoms include fever, lethargy, runny nose, moist cough and sore and red eyes, with a red, splotchy rash that appears after the infectious period has passed. If you think you’ve been exposed to someone with measles, or are showing any measles symptoms, you should see a GP (ask if a doctor can visit your home to avoid spreading the infection to others).
“Even being in the general vicinity of a person with measles after they’ve left the room can result in infection if the person is susceptible. This really reenforces the need for people to be fully immunised against measles,” Professor Allen Cheng from The Alfred hospital in Melbourne added.