Health authorities have renewed their call for travellers to get measles vaccinations before they leave home after the 85th confirmed case of the disease in Australia this year.
A Macquarie University student in her 20s is the latest to be diagnosed amid a string of measles alerts across Australia in 2019.
She is the 35th confirmed case in NSW in three months.
Her diagnosis came as the World Health Organisation reported that measles cases had increased 300 per cent worldwide already in 2019, compared to last year.
NSW Health said the woman was unknowingly infectious at several locations across Sydney, Maitland and Wyong between April 3 and 7.
“We cannot stress enough the need for holidaymakers to be vaccinated before travelling to South-East Asia,” NSW Health’s communicable diseases director Vicky Sheppeard said on Wednesday.
“The majority of cases we are seeing are being brought home.”
On Tuesday, NSW Health’s Dr Jeremy McAnulty said the dramatic spike in cases in Australia was a serious concern.
“We are really worried it could take hold here,” Dr McAnulty said.
The spate had been caused by unvaccinated travellers bringing measles back to Australia and unknowingly spreading the disease, he said.
Do I need to be vaccinated?
Today, Australian children receive two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella combination vaccine, to ensure full protection.
But this hasn’t always been the case. If you were born between 1966 and 1994, it’s worth checking your vaccination levels – the two-step program was only introduced in 1992.
Kristine Macartney, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, told the ABC vaccination rates for measles were as low as 70 per cent in the 1970s and into the 1980s.
“So, for people who were children in the ’80s and are now in their 30s, they may not have been vaccinated at all against measles,” Professor Macartney told the ABC.
Anyone who’s concerned can check their vaccination level in three ways: Through their doctor, a blood test, or the Australian Immunisation Register.
Australians born before 1966 don’t need to worry; it’s likely they’ve developed a natural immunity to the disease.
The vaccination is free from anyone born after 1965.
“It is safe to get another jab, particularly if you are going overseas,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Measles symptoms include fever, sore eyes, a cough for three or four days followed by a red, spotty rash that spreads from the head down the body.
This the 85th case of measles in Australia this year. The nation had 103 cases in total for 2018 and 81 in 2017.
NSW residents urged to track their whereabouts
The university student who is the most recent case acquired her measles infection in NSW.
Dr Sheppeard said people who’d visited the same locations at the same time should be alert for symptoms until April 23:
- The young woman visited F45 Haymarket on Wednesday morning and Macquarie University that afternoon and the next day
- On Friday morning, she travelled to Maitland by train, before returning to Sydney later that day. The next day, she visited the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb office
- On Sunday, she went to the emergency department at Maitland Hospital. People who were in the emergency department at the same time are being contacted.
Not just Australia
The outbreak of measles has become dire in New York City in the US.
The city’s mayor Bill de Blasio has declared the situation a public health emergency, and ordered all unvaccinated residents of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to immediately receive the vaccine – or face a $US1000 fine.
“This is the epicentre of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” Mayor de Blasio said at a news conference this week.
The suburb follows the lead of others, as the city faces its worst measles outbreak in almost two decades.
The New York Times reported the city has confirmed 285 cases since the outbreak begin in spring (Australia time). Twenty one people have been taken to hospital for treatment.