As the US battles measles outbreaks in 24 states, a fresh outbreak in Victoria this week has again prompted health officials to urge all Australians to check their immunisation history.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says everyone should check their records and book in for a catch-up vaccination if necessary.
High vaccination rates over several decades resulted in Australia being declared measles-free just five years ago. However, because the disease is so infectious and immunisation in some countries is not high, travellers can unwittingly bring it into Australia.
Kristine Macartney, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, told the ABC: “Globally, we’re seeing hundreds of thousands of cases of measles, and indeed tens of thousands of measles deaths.
“Measles is incredibly contagious, and where there are not very high vaccination rates – over 90 per cent – we are at risk of seeing it rear its ugly head.
“Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening around the world at present … it is quite a serious situation.”
Confirmed cases in Australia have hit a five-year high.
Professor Macartney said many Australians aged in their 20s to early 50s might not be fully vaccinated because the second dose of the vaccine wasn’t routinely given until the early 1990s. “So people may think they’ve had the two recommended doses, when actually they haven’t,” she said.
The two-dose vaccination program was introduced in Australia in 1992, but many Australians born earlier may have missed out on the second dose, or missed out on the measles vaccine altogether, she said.
Older Australians born before 1966 were likely to have natural immunity to the virus, which was common childhood disease before a national vaccination program was introduced.
You can check your immunisation history with your GP, through the Australian Immunisation Register, or via a blood test.
Prof. Macartney said: “There is also no problem in receiving an extra dose of the measles vaccine if you’re unsure about how many doses you’ve received in the past.
“It’s a safe vaccine, and very highly effective.”
Measles is a highly contagious viral illness. It takes about 10 days before a person who is infected exhibits symptoms. And it is during that time that it is particularly contagious.
The virus spreads through coughs and sneezes and can survive on surfaces for up to two hours.
Early symptoms include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, watery eyes and fatigue. After about four days, a rash will appear.
While most people make a full recovery, measles can lead to serious and sometimes fatal complications, including diarrhoea and vomiting, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, and swelling of the brain.
The Department of Health says that about one in 15 people with measles gets pneumonia and one in 1000 develops brain swelling, which can lead to brain damage.
If you are concerned that you may not have been vaccinated, talk with your GP.
Are you a big believer in vaccinations? Did you make sure your children received vaccinations? Have you had a flu shot?
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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.