Measles is dominating news headlines worldwide — with good reason.
Australia has seen an unfortunate increase in cases of the highly infectious disease, while a measles emergency has been declared in New York. A measles epidemic in Madagascar has killed more than 900 people, including many children.
Measles, which is almost entirely preventable with 2 doses of a vaccine, has returned to places — such as Australia — where it had been previously been eliminated.
So far this year, there have been 98 notifications of confirmed measles in Australia, compared with 103 for the whole of 2018. There were 81 confirmed cases of measles in 2017.
The Department of Health is very concerned about the recent increase in measles cases and is urging everyone to check their measles immunisation history or get vaccinated.
Are you immune to measles?
Australian children are routinely given 2 doses of a vaccine that protects them against measles; the first at 12 months old and the second one at 18 months. The first dose also protects against mumps and rubella (often referred to as the 'MMR vaccine'), while the second dose also protects against mumps, rubella and chickenpox.
The program provides lifelong protection in 99 of every 100 people vaccinated.
Currently, 93.5% of 2-year-olds in Australia have received these vaccinations, but for a community to be protected against measles, at least 95% of children need to have the 2 doses.
The measles vaccine was first introduced in the 1960s, but the 2-dose program wasn't introduced to Australia until the 1990s. So, people born between 1966 and 1994 may not have received 2 doses and are advised to talk to their doctor.
Migrants to Australia may have also missed out on the full dose of the measles vaccine.
People born before 1966 are likely to be protected by immunity to measles due to the disease being quite widespread at the time.
If you'e not sure whether you're immune to measles, you can check your immunisation history with your GP or get a blood test. You can also search the Australian Immunisation Register for any vaccinations you may have received since January 1, 1996 (when the register was set up).
If you think you may have had a measles vaccination earlier in life but are still not sure, it is safe to get another vaccination. Talk to your doctor.
Measles is worth worrying about
Measles is very contagious, infecting about 9 in 10 people who are not immunised who come into contact with it. It's spread via droplets from coughing and sneezing. You might become infected by breathing them in or touching a surface on which the droplets have settled, or through contact with an infected person.
The measles virus can survive on surfaces for hours. It can also be contracted by someone up to 2 hours after an infected person has left a room.
Symptoms of measles can include fever, cough, fatigue, feeling unwell and a rash. But many people who get measles will experience complications such as ear infections, diarrhoea or pneumonia and may be hospitalised. About 1 in every 1,000 people with measles develops encephalitis, an infection of the brain that can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
Measles should not be underestimated. In 2017, 110,000 people died from complications of measles globally — mostly children aged under 5.
Measles vaccines can cause side effects such as a temperature, mild rash or the general feeling of being unwell. But for most people, the chance of having a serious side effect from the vaccine is much lower than the chance of serious illness should they catch measles.
Check your immunity and help stop the spread of this preventable disease.
Where to get more information
- Talk to your GP about immunisation against measles.
- Check your (or your child's) vaccination history on the Australian Immunisation Register.
- Learn more about immunisation and find out if you're eligible for a free vaccine under the National Immunisation Program here.
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