17 August 2018

Measles alert for Perth residents and overseas travellers

Western Australians are being asked to be alert to an increased risk of measles, following notification of six people being infected in the Perth metropolitan area in the past week.

These cases became infected following contact with two of five other recent cases who brought their infections in from overseas, including at a workplace and in a hospital Emergency Department.

As these cases visited numerous public places in Perth while they were infectious, a number of other people have potentially been exposed to measles and may develop the highly contagious illness.

Director Communicable Disease Control, Dr Paul Armstrong  said public health staff had been providing information to people who were potentially exposed to the most recent cases where they were known, but it was not possible to identify and specifically warn people who were in public places.

There have now been eleven measles cases confirmed in WA residents since the end of July. The previous five cases were infected while travelling overseas in Bali and the Philippines. Most of the recent cases have been young adults.

“With high vaccination coverage, naturally occurring measles has been eliminated from WA for around 20 years, but occasional cases occur in tourists or WA residents who are infected overseas. Unfortunately, some lead to small outbreaks,” Dr Armstrong said.

“Every measles case is treated as a public health emergency because of the risk of local spread – including to those most vulnerable to infection such as infants too young to be vaccinated, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.”

Early symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and sore eyes, followed by a red blotchy rash about three days later. The rash usually starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

Measles is contagious for about four days before and after the development of the rash. Children and adults who have been unwittingly exposed are at risk of developing measles if they are not immune.

Anyone who thinks they might have measles should call ahead so that they can be isolated immediately on arrival at the GP surgery or Emergency Department, to prevent infecting other patients and staff.

People are considered immune to measles if they are born before 1966 or have received two doses of measles-containing vaccine. Those intending travelling overseas who aren’t immune, or aren’t sure, should have a vaccine at least two weeks before leaving.

Travellers returning from overseas, particularly Southeast Asia, who develop a fever within three weeks of returning home, should consider whether they have measles and consult their doctor.

Measles is a serious viral illness spread by tiny droplets released when infected people cough and sneeze.

Complications following measles can be serious and include ear infections and pneumonia in about 10 per cent of cases. Around 30 per cent of cases require hospitalisation and about one person in every 1,000 will develop encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.

Measles vaccine is currently given to children at 12 and 18 months of age.

People who are concerned they may have measles and require medical advice after hours can contact Healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

For further information, visit the HealthyWA website (external site).


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