No vaccination registers were kept before 1996.
No vaccination registers were kept before 1996.

Everything you need to know about Ipswich’s measles outbreak

CHILDREN in the West Moreton health district have a relatively high rate of measles immunisation that is similar to the rest of the state and Australia as a whole.

Between April and June 2019, 93.5 per cent of West Moreton children who turned two in that period had received their second dose of Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Varicella (MMRV) vaccine.

This compares with 91.9 per cent of children across Queensland and 91.5% of children in Australia.

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It is believed that 95 per cent coverage is required to prevent an outbreak of the highly infectious disease.

It is important to maintain a high level of measles vaccination coverage to protect people who can't be vaccinated. They include babies under 6-12 months, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.

West Moreton Public Health Physician, Dr Vicki Slinko, said little was known about the measles vaccination coverage of many adult Australians.

This is due to changes in the vaccination schedule over the past 50 years and the fact that no vaccination registers were kept before 1996.

"Most Australians over 55 years of age contracted the disease as children, before the measles vaccine was available, and so we think they should have a natural immunity to the disease," Dr Slinko said.

"But many adults aged between 20 and 50 are unsure about their vaccination status, or don't have records of their vaccinations, and could be exposed to the disease. We encourage them to see their GP and ask to be vaccinated."

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The measles vaccine is free for anyone born after 1965 who does not have two documented doses of measles vaccine. If someone has had two doses but it is not documented, it is still safe to have another vaccine.

The measles vaccine was first added to the childhood vaccination schedule in the early 1970s before changing to the combined Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine in 1989.

"At that stage, a second dose of the vaccine was given to adolescents in early high school but many people who were in high school during that period may have missed this second dose," Dr Slinko said.

"There was an outbreak of measles among primary school-age children in the mid-1990s that led doctors to realise the second dose of measles vaccine needed to be given earlier than in high school. So that second dose was changed to being given to four-year-olds."

Since 2013, children have been immunised with the MMR vaccine at 12 months of age and then again with MMRV (which includes a chickenpox vaccine) at 18 months of age.



How measles spreads

Measles is a highly infectious disease that is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes over another person who does not have immunity. It can also be spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions or soiled articles (such as dirty tissues).

Being in the same room as someone with measles can also lead to infection.

Even entering a room 30 minutes after someone with measles has left can cause a person with no immunity to the disease becoming infected.

Because child immunisation rates here are high, many cases in Queensland have occurred through adults travelling to and from countries that are experiencing outbreaks, such as New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, the Philippines, the United States and the United Kingdom.

If the disease is contracted overseas, the traveller may return to Australia during the incubation period before the symptoms become apparent.

Any travellers from countries where vaccination rates are not as high as Australia's can also bring the disease to Australia.

Measles should not be regarded as a mild disease.

Deaths occur mainly in children under five years of age, primarily from pneumonia (lung infection), and occasionally from encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Complications are more common and more severe in people who are in poor health and very young children.


Signs to look out for

The first signs of measles are usually fever, tiredness, cough, runny nose and/or red inflamed eyes.

These symptoms usually become worse over a few days. It is important to stay away from other people if you have this type of illness because many infectious conditions can produce the same symptoms.

This is then followed by a blotchy, dark red rash which usually begins at the hairline.

The rash then spreads over the entire body, during which time the person generally feels very unwell.


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Free measles vaccinations clinics are held by Ipswich City Council in Ipswich, Springfield, Redbank Plains.


What to do if you have symptoms

People usually need to seek medical help if they have measles.

However, it is very important that they phone ahead to their GP or emergency department to advise that they may have measles. This is particularly important if they have been in contact with someone who has measles or have recently been overseas where outbreaks are occurring.

Your GP may choose to do a home visit, or have staff meet you at your car and give you a mask to put on.

The Ipswich Hospital should have masks available at the entrance.

It is important to wear a mask if you have any of the symptoms.

Free measles vaccination clinics (even for overseas visitors) are run by the Ipswich City Council in Ipswich, Springfield and Redbank Plains. For more information, visit Ipswich City Council's website and search for Community Immunisation Clinics.

For more information, phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).