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Health authorities on high alert over potential Brunswick measles outbreak

February 10, 2016
Latest News

Four cases of measles have been confirmed in Brunswick and East Brunswick in the past week.

Authorities are bracing for a significant wave of measles cases in Melbourne’s inner north, as it continues to be spread by contagious victims who remain unaware they have it.

Four people with the virus have been identified and isolated in Brunswick.

Authorities do not believe any of them brought the virus to Australia, and all may have been contagious for up to ten days. The health department suspects more people have the virus, and continue to spread it without knowing.
And of course the concern is always with measles is that the next wave of cases if they occur could have an ever wider circle of contacts.

“It’s very possible over the next week or so those people who were actively infectious to others in the last week could have transmitted it, and people could be incubating it.”

Of the four taken sick so far, three are in their 20s and one is in her 40s and live in Brunswick. None have recently travelled overseas, which is why health authorities suspect none of them was the original patient zero.

Because the department has not found the patient zero, Dr Taylor said it was impossible to track who they might have had contact with or predict the likely path of the infection.

Unfortunately because all four are sick, authorities are having difficulties interviewing them – making it very hard to trace their movements and discover who they might have had contact with.

Measles is a highly-infectious virus that can cause serious illness, including pneumonia, particularly in young children and adults. It is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person and spreads through coughing and sneezing.

People can contract and spread the virus for several days before symptoms begin to show. Symptoms include
– Fever
– Sore throat
– Red eyes
– Coughing
– Rash, usually presenting three-five days after the first symptoms and starting on the face before spreading

Anyone developing those symptoms is urged to call ahead before visiting a GP, to enable the spread of infection to be minimised.

Measles droplets can hang in the air and remain infection up to two hours after a person with an infection coughs.

Children and adults aged under 50 who have not had two measles vaccinations are most at risk. Authorities say they should strongly consider getting vaccinated immediately.

Children who have had both courses of the vaccine are extremely unlikely to be at risk.

GPs who treated them are contacting any people who may have had contact with them in their waiting rooms. The health department has issued an alert to doctors across the state asking them to look out for further infections.

Dr Taylor dismissed concerns about the virus striking in Brunswick because the suburb had a low rate of vaccination.

“The data for children’s’ vaccinations in measles for that area isn’t bad, it’s a little lower than the state average but it’s certainly not something to be overly concerned about.

“We’re seeing this more in younger adults. That group grew up in a time when there wasn’t two doses of measles vaccine being provided.”

The measles vaccine, which is administered as the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine, is part of the National Immunisation Program for children between 12 months and four years of age.

Anyone who is unvaccinated;
Adults between 35 and 49 years, because many in this age group did not receive measles vaccine;
People at any age who are immunocompromised, even if they have had measles, or have been immunised. This includes people with diseases such as cancer, and people who are undergoing cancer treatment or are on high-dose steroids.

Women in their 20s to 40s can receive the MMR vaccine free of charge under the Victorian government’s initiative to ensure women of child-bearing age are protected against rubella.

Meanwhile, people under 20 can also receive the MMR vaccine free of charge under the federal government’s catch-up campaign.

A community’s immunisation rate has to be about 90 per cent for what is known as “herd immunity” to kick in, according to the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.

Herd immunity occurs when the level of immunisation is high enough to create a ring of protection around the community against a particular disease. It is crucial to protect the community’s most vulnerable, including newborn babies.

However, an even higher immunisation rate is needed for measles, for which 95 per cent coverage is optimal.

Late last year, a Brunswick school was at the centre of a chickenpox outbreak. One in four students at Brunswick North West Primary School contracted chickenpox within a fortnight.

Only 73.2 per cent of children at the school were fully immunised at the time, although the overall immunisation rate for the suburb was closer to the state average of 93 per cent.

Under the new No Jab, No Play laws which came into effect on January 1 this year, all Victorian children must be fully vaccinated to attend childcare and kindergarten

The groups of people most at risk of catching measles are:

Anyone who is unvaccinated;
Adults between 35 and 49 years, because many in this age group did not receive measles vaccine;
People at any age who are immunocompromised, even if they have had measles, or have been immunised. This includes people with diseases such as cancer, and people who are undergoing cancer treatment or are on high-dose steroids.

Published By: The Age 9/2/16