“Don’t mess with measles”, Telethon Kids warns, as outbreaks continue Australia-wide
Measles alerts have become more widespread in recent weeks, with reports of new cases and potential outbreaks occurring “at alarming rates”, said a spokesperson for Telethon Kids Research Institute, issuing a clear edict to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector: “don’t mess with measles”.
“Unfortunately, in the most severe cases, children deteriorate in the years following the initial infection and don’t survive. Vaccination against measles is the only way to prevent this,” Institute spokesperson Dr Tom Snelling said.
When measles alerts are issued, they list places, bus routes, flights, etc. where members of the public may have been exposed to the measles virus, which can cause concern for those unlucky enough to be in the same place at the same time. In issuing advice about measles, Dr Snelling said it was important to understand how contagious measles can be, and clear up misconceptions about who is most at risk of infection.
In the information below, Dr Snelling, who is the Director of the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases based at Telethon Kids Institute, explains the top five things you should know about the virus and why having the measles vaccine is so important.
1. Measles is one of the most highly contagious infectious diseases in humans
“Measles is spread from person-to-person by tiny droplets in the air. The droplets can last in the air for an hour or two after someone with measles has left the area,” Dr Snelling says.
“The measles virus spreads extremely easily and no direct contact is required – just being in the same room is all it takes.”
2. One dose of the measles vaccine provides about 90 per cent protection
Dr Snelling says all children are recommended to have their first measles vaccination when they are 12 months old, and then an extra vaccination at 18 months.
“A single dose of the measles vaccine provides around 90 per cent protection, which is a good start, but it is important for children to have both doses of the vaccine to ensure full protection.”
3. Can you have measles more than once? What age ranges are most at risk?
After a case of the measles, people develop immunity and are extremely unlikely to have the infection again.
“Adults born before 1966 are considered to be at very low risk because essentially everyone born back then had measles in childhood,” Dr Snelling says. “People born between 1966 and 1983 are at high risk because they probably didn’t have measles, and may have only ever received one dose of the measles vaccine, so they should visit their GP to have a second dose.
“Young babies are partly protected from measles by the antibodies that are passed to them from their mum, but these antibodies wane over the first year of life and babies must be vaccinated on time at 12 months old to ensure protection as they get older.”
4. Travellers should check their vaccination records
“Recent cases of the measles have been brought into Australia by travellers returning from countries where vaccination is patchy and where the virus is still circulating, especially in Asia and Africa,” Dr Snelling says.
“But developing countries aren’t the only places that pose a risk to picking up measles on an overseas holiday. Even the “happiest place on earth” – Disneyland – isn’t immune from a measles outbreak; 52 cases originated from the California theme park over just a few days at the end of 2014.
“No matter the destination, all travellers should check their immunisation records and ensure all recommended vaccinations are up-to-date before heading away – planes, buses and airports all provide the perfect environment for the measles virus to spread.”
5. Don’t mess with the measles
According to Dr Snelling, many people underestimate the dangers posed by measles.
“Most people experience the common symptoms of a runny nose, cough, red eyes and rash, and other complications can develop such as ear infections and pneumonia.
“But the most dangerous and life-threatening complication of the measles is encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. This is rare, occurring in around one of every 1,000 cases, but encephalitis can cause irreversible damage to the nerve cells in the brain.
“Unfortunately, in the most severe cases, children deteriorate in the years following the initial infection and don’t survive. Vaccination against measles is the only way to prevent this.”
More information about managing measles in early childhood education and care settings can be found here.