Measles outbreaks are happening across the globe and are reaching Australia. In the past month, there have been confirmed cases in Perth, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Cairns. In light of these outbreaks, the Australian Academy of Science is urging Australians heading overseas, for business or pleasure, to make sure their measles vaccinations are up to date.
According to the Australian Department of Health’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System there have been 172 notifications of measles in Australia so far in 2019, compared to 103 cases in 2018.
The call comes as the Australian Health Department, in partnership with the Academy, releases educational and promotional materials to inform consumers and health professionals about the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease.
Public health expert Professor David Durrheim from the University of Newcastle, who features in the materials, said most measles cases are Australians who are unprotected from the disease, traveling overseas to places where measles is spreading, and bringing it back.
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.”
Professor David Durrheim
While measles is more common in developing countries where vaccines are less widely available— particularly in parts of Africa and Asia—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.
Academy Fellow Professor Ian Frazer FAA, from the University of Queensland, said it takes just one person to come into the country with measles, and less than 95% of the community immunized, 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 realizing it,” said Professor Frazer, who also features in the materials.
The latest immunization coverage data for two-year old children in Australia shows coverage of more than 93% for the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Those most at risk of developing complications tend to be the same people who are unable to be vaccinated against the disease so it’s crucial that others in the community are fully immunized to prevent the spread of disease to the most vulnerable in our society. Two doses of the MMR vaccine provide lifelong protection. 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.”
Professor Ian Frazer
People under 20 years of age, refugees and other humanitarian entrants of any age, can get measles vaccines for free through the National Immunization Program if they did not receive the vaccines in childhood.
The Department of Health recommends measles immunization for the groups listed here.
The new initiative includes:
- Consumer videos on the following topics: Measles explainer; Measles for travelers; Who is most at risk of measles.
- A video for health professionals to raise awareness of increased notifications and the importance of talking to patients about their vaccination status and the availability of catch up vaccines (where appropriate).
- Feature articles on the following topics available at these links: Who is most at risk of measles; Measles: what you need to know; Measles info for travelers; How measles impacts your immune system
The videos and articles have been rigorously fact-checked by Academy Fellows and feature some of Australia’s leading experts in the field including Professor Karin Leder, Monash University and Royal Melbourne Hospital and Dr Sonya Bennett from Queensland Health.