Measles outbreak crosses the Tasman

Paul Hayes

3/10/2019 10:52:35 AM

Multiple cases of the highly infectious disease have been confirmed in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, with several linked to an outbreak in New Zealand.

Measles rash
Measles is highly infectious and can can have serious complications, particularly for young children or people with weakened immune systems.


Western Australian health authorities have confirmed 11 measles cases in Perth, while the Northern Sydney Local Health District (NSLHD) has warned people to watch out for symptoms after an infectious overseas traveller visited the area.
The Perth cases are believed to have originated in New Zealand, which is currently experiencing what is being called the country’s worst outbreak of the disease in two decades.
According to Dr Paul Effler, Acting Director of the Communicable Disease Control Directorate in Western Australia, the majority of the state’s current measles outbreak has affected people between their 20s and 40s, although some case include babies too young to be vaccinated, as well as a teenage child.
Five of the confirmed cases have occurred in Rockingham, a suburb south of Perth.
‘Every measles case is treated as a public health emergency because of the risk of local spread,’ Dr Effler said. ‘This includes those most vulnerable to infection, such as infants too young to be vaccinated, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women who are not already immune through vaccination or previous infection.
‘With high vaccination coverage, naturally occurring measles has been eliminated from WA for around 20 years, but occasional cases and small outbreaks still occur – usually associated with tourists or WA residents who are infected overseas.’
Meanwhile, Sydney is on alert this week after a person with a confirmed case of measles travelled around the Northern Beaches and Parramatta. NSLHD Public Health Director Dr Michael Staff said the infected person most likely contracted the disease during a recent visit to Melbourne.
‘Victorian health authorities report there have been 11 cases of measles diagnosed in Melbourne in the past two weeks, with infectious people visiting a number of locations including the central business district, the MCG and Melbourne Airport,’ Dr Staff said.
‘It’s very important to prevent further spread of this serious illness.’
Cases in Melbourne have also been linked to the New Zealand outbreak.
‘People who are planning overseas travel should ensure they have received vaccinations appropriate to travel,’ Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.
The New Zealand outbreak has seen more than 1300 people in Auckland contract measles since the beginning of the year, with the disease particularly prevalent in lower socioeconomic areas of the city. Those infected include several pregnant women, with authorities this week confirming two unborn babies had died after their mothers contracted measles.
‘These are very sad events for these two women and their families. We do know that measles can cause pregnancy complications including miscarriage and pre-term birth,’ Dr Karen Bartholomew, director of health outcomes for the Waitematā and Auckland district health boards, said during a media conference.
New Zealand health authorities have said the country’s outbreak is now in decline after reaching a peak in August.
New Zealand GP Dr Phil Schroeder, who provides emergency support to GPs in the Canterbury region on the South Island, recently told newsGP the outbreak has been ‘very disruptive’.
‘It’s having a huge impact. Every time a parent calls up concerned about their child’s rash, we have to treat it as if it is [measles], until proven otherwise,’ he said. ‘That means we won’t see the person in the facility if we get pre-warning and instead triage them in their car or the carpark, if at all possible.
‘We are getting two or three a week at the moment, and though most are false alarms it still creates pandemonium.
‘It’s the most contagious virus known to humankind – it trumps just about everything else.’

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