07 October 2019

Measles cluster in Perth metropolitan area update #4

Western Australians who reside in or have visited the Perth metropolitan area since mid-September – particularly those who travelled on flight NZ175 departing Auckland New Zealand arriving in Perth on Monday 23 September at 1420hrs - are being asked to be alert to the risk of measles. 

There have now been 17 confirmed measles cases in the Perth metropolitan area since mid-September.

While, thus far, the majority of the cases predominantly live in the Rockingham area, the risk of exposure to measles applies to travellers on the NZ175 flight and to other people within the broader metropolitan area who may have unknowingly been exposed. This is because persons with measles are infectious before they become unwell, and often attend a number of public venues prior to being diagnosed.

Children and adults who are not immune are at risk of developing measles if they are inadvertently exposed. These individuals should remain vigilant for the onset of measles symptoms for the next three weeks.

Acting Director of the Communicable Disease Control Directorate, Dr Paul Effler said that measles was a serious and highly contagious viral illness spread by tiny droplets released when infected people coughed or sneezed.

“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.”

Public health staff are in the process of providing information to people who were potentially exposed to the most recent cases where they were known, and will be offering preventative treatment/immunisation as appropriate, however it is not possible to identify and specifically warn people who were in public places.

Measles virus survives less than two hours in the air or on objects and surfaces and is inactivated rapidly in the presence of sunlight or heat. It is generally considered safe for non-immune individuals to enter a room 30 minutes after a measles case has left the area.

People with measles typically develop symptoms approximately 10 days after being exposed to the virus, but this can vary from 7 to 18 days. Early symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and sore eyes, followed by a red blotchy rash three or four days later. The rash usually starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

Dr Effler said anybody who had had a potential exposure to measles, and who developed a fever with these other symptoms should see a doctor.

“It is important for people to call ahead when travelling to a clinic or Emergency Department so that they can be isolated from infecting other patients and staff when they arrive,” he said.

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.

Persons born prior to 1966 are usually immune to measles because they had the illness as a child. People born during or after 1966 are requested to check that they have had two documented doses of a measles vaccine at some stage in their life, especially if they plan to travel overseas. If they are not sure if they have had two doses of a measles vaccine, they should see their doctor for a vaccination before going abroad.

A new adult measles vaccination program was announced on 26 March for Western Australians born during or after 1966 (this refers to those aged between 20-53 years in 2019) who have not already received two doses of a measles-containing vaccine. Eligible adults can receive this free vaccine from their GP, Aboriginal Medical Service, travel clinic or community health immunisation clinics.

Parents are urged to make sure their children receive their measles vaccinations on schedule. Measles vaccine is currently given to children at 12 and 18 months of age.

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 a hospital admission and about one person in every 1,000 will develop encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.

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

To learn more about measles, visit the HealthyWA website (external site).


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