Darwin measles outbreak ‘over’

Matt Woodley

22/05/2019 3:36:07 PM

NT Health believes it has contained the spread of the disease, which at one stage infected 30 people in 40 days.

Measles rash
GPs were forced to maintain a high level of suspicion for measles with every at-risk patient who presented with a rash. (Image: CDC/Dr Heinz F Eichenwald)

No new cases have been reported in Greater Darwin since 6 April, but health authorities are still urging at-risk people to access free measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines to ensure the disease remains contained.
‘If you have not had two MMR vaccines or do not know your measles vaccination status, now is the time to get an MMR vaccine to protect you and others around you from the disease,’ Dr Vicki Krause, Director at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), said.
‘Those most affected were aged between 20 and 55 years of age who had only had one measles containing vaccine, followed by babies under 12 months who were too young to have had their routine immunisation.’
The outbreak was the largest since 2014 and infected 11.7 people per 100,000 – a rate 16 times higher than any other state or territory.
More than 1200 people were contacted directly in response to the outbreak and Dr Krause told newsGP it had undertaken extensive contact tracing and vaccine provision to contain the disease.
‘The fact that the measles cases were contained over a short period of time reflects the concerted and consistent effort that went into the public health response,’ Dr Krause said.
‘Additionally, there has been extensive public education in the NT to ensure that all people born after 1966 have received two MMR vaccines. Health professionals have received regular updates to ensure people with suspected measles are isolated and tested, and that all people born after 1966 have received two MMR vaccines.’
The outbreak, the largest since 2014, is believed to have originated from one case that was imported from overseas travel.
Darwin GP Dr Lina Zbaidi told newsGP the NT’s proximity to South East Asia and its large number of overseas tourists made it more susceptible to outbreaks such as measles.
‘We have a big Asian community in Darwin and people travel back to their home countries or have visitors coming to Darwin … It’s [also] a younger population up here in the Territory,’ she said.
Dr Zbaidi said vigilance amongst GPs, and collaboration between public health physicians and primary care had helped contain the spread of the disease.
‘CDC have been in touch with GPs and provided regular updates and advice about where to look for measles, and how to manage it if you have clinical suspicions,’ she said.
‘We [also] get regular updates … with the numbers, as well as information about contacting patients in the risk group and checking their immunisation history.
‘[You have] to be opportunistic – so if you have a patient coming in for a health check, make sure that you check that immunisation history and if they’re in the risk group give them the immunisation.’
It also affected the way GPs examined patients who presented with possible markers of the disease.
‘I haven’t had any patients coming in concerned that they had measles, it was more us as clinicians keeping a high level of suspicion,’ Dr Zbaidi explained.
‘[For] every child presenting with a rash, or [patient] within the risk age groups … it was important to keep measles in mind, which is something that we didn’t used to do as much.’
Overall there has been an marked increase in measles cases and public health warnings across Australia this year. Most recently, Victoria’s acting health officer Angie Bone revealed another two people had been infected, taking the number of cases in the state this year to 17, while NSW has recorded 34 confirmed cases.
Vaccine hesitancy and increased travel are believed to be two of the main contributors to the spike, while an explosion in global measles cases has also exacerbated the situation.
Already there have been 109 confirmed cases of measles in Australia this year, the highest number since 2014.

measles Northern Territory vaccination

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