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21 Jan 2019

A measles outbreak in NSW has led to renewed calls for parents to have their children vaccinated against the infectious disease.

Eight cases since Christmas have been traced to two children whose parents chose not to vaccinate them. A health warning has been issued by authorities.

The children flew into Sydney with their parents after a stay in Sri Lanka.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said the outbreak shows there is still a high need to be vigilant when it comes to ensuring vaccinations are kept up to date.

“What we’ve had in this situation is two cases, or two children with measles in its evolving state – that is, before it became symptomatically clear that the children did have measles – being on the plane,” Dr Bartone told Radio 2GB.

“Children who weren’t vaccinated… or other adults who didn’t have their vaccination status up to speed, up to scratch, were obviously at risk of contracting a very highly contagious viral illness.

“We know that especially in the confines of something like an aircraft it is very, very likely to create that opportunity for spread and infection especially, obviously, if you don’t have your vaccination status up to date.”

Dr Bartone said all Australians needed to remember that measles is a viral illness that, previous to immunisation, had been present for many decades.

It can be very severe and even fatal in some cases.

“If we look around the world right now, one of the leading causes of death in children is measles,” Dr Bartone said.

“That’s in the larger, wider world, where vaccination status isn’t as prevalent as in the Australian population. It is extremely likely to be associated with significant complications and, indeed, mortality. If your vaccination status is up to date, you’re not at risk of catching it and obviously do not run that risk.

“We’ve become complacent because largely – from an endemic point of view – Australia has been free of measles because of our very, very effective vaccination campaign.

“However, because now we live in a global society and we are prone to travel in increasing numbers and increasing amounts, the opportunity to bring back measles into the country is significant.”

Dr Bartone said that was especially the case if travelling unvaccinated to and from areas where measles is endemic.

“It’s a message that the only safe way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated,” he said.

“To not vaccinate is to leave yourself prone to catching measles, especially from someone either travelling from an area where they’ve picked it up or bringing it back in.

“For every 10 people that are unvaccinated and that are exposed to the measles virus, nine will catch it. So, it’s extremely contagious. It’s spread by droplet infection, either sneeze or cough, or from contaminated surfaces.

“And the virus can live for many, many hours on those surfaces. So, we’re looking at a situation where we’ve got a highly contagious virus.”

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 21 Jan 2019