A child with measles. Pic: NSW Health
A child with measles. Pic: NSW Health

Measles outbreaks surge across state

QUEENSLAND is in the midst of a "bad" measles year as celebrity anti-vaxxers continue to undermine public health messages aimed at preventing further outbreaks of the potentially deadly infection.

Twelve cases of the highly contagious virus have been confirmed in Queensland so far this year - only two fewer than for the whole of 2018 and already more than the eight recorded infections in 2017.

QUEENSLAND A HOTBED FOR SERIOUS VIRUS

Most of this year's cases resulted from three people who acquired the virus overseas and then generated another five infections on their return to Queensland.

 

Measles cases in Queensland this year. Full details at end of article.
Measles cases in Queensland this year. Full details at end of article.

Bad measles outbreaks are underway in the Ukraine, where 11 people have died; the Philippines, where the virus has killed more than 300 people this year and in New York's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, where health officials are so concerned, they have mandated vaccinations, with threats of US$1000 fines if people refuse.

In Australia, celebrity anti-vaxxers threaten to hijack the debate with the latest, outspoken former professional boxer Anthony Mundine, taking to Twitter this month to tell people: "Don't vaccine (sic) your kids period! The government bully you into vaccine! Do your research …"

Queensland Health had a swift response to Mundine and all the other celebrity anti-vaxxers providing advice on social media.

"Would you let a celebrity give you a pap smear? No? Then why would you listen to their health advice?" a spokeswoman said.

The science on the benefits of vaccines is unequivocal. Research shows measles deaths in Australia have plummeted since a vaccination against the virus was first included on the National immunisation Program more than 40 years ago.

Former professional boxer Anthony Mundine, who has posted anti-vaccination messages on social media. Picture: Sarah Marshall, AAP
Former professional boxer Anthony Mundine, who has posted anti-vaccination messages on social media. Picture: Sarah Marshall, AAP


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows that between 1956 and 1975 - the two decades before a measles jab was included on the program - 356 measles deaths were reported.

In the 20 years between 1996 and 2016, three Australians died after contracting the virus.

International public health specialist Charles Gilks, 64, said he was concerned people in high-income countries, such as Australia, had become complacent about measles because the vaccine had been so successful.

"Having seen children die of measles, both in the United Kingdom, where I practised, and in Africa, where I worked for a long period of time, I can't believe how people forget that measles is a major killer," said Professor Gilks, the head of the University of Queensland's School of Public Health.

"We've managed to virtually take measles out of our society with a vaccine, and then suddenly, we're having to respond to really spurious concerns about vaccines doing more harm than good.

"Vaccination is a success story. But to maintain that success, we've got to continue vaccinating and using what is a very safe vaccine. And we've got to become much better at communicating and reassuring Mums and Dads that it is safe."

Professor Gilks said one of the world's deadliest human diseases - smallpox - had been eradicated thanks to the world's first successful vaccine, developed by Englishman Edward Jenner, in 1796.

Public Health physician Megan Young, from the Metro North Hospital and Health Service, said every measles case should be taken seriously and not only because it could be deadly.

She said some people infected with measles could also be left with permanent hearing loss or brain damage.

"One in four people who have measles are hospitalised," Dr Young said. "Around six per cent of people can get pneumonia after a measles infection and about one in 1000 people with measles will develop a brain infection - encephalitis."

Measles is also particularly risky for pregnant women and their unborn children.

"If a pregnant woman gets measles, she can then give birth prematurely and the baby could end up having a low birthweight," Dr Young said.

Queensland Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch executive director Dr Sonya Bennett. Picture: Attila Csaszar
Queensland Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch executive director Dr Sonya Bennett. Picture: Attila Csaszar

Queensland Health's Communicable Diseases Branch executive director Sonya Bennett said women planning a pregnancy should discuss whether to be immunised against measles with their doctor.

"If so, they should be vaccinated with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine at least 28 days before becoming pregnant or immediately after delivery."

Two doses of the vaccine are needed to optimise protection against the virus.

"For every 100 people vaccinated with two doses, 98 per cent will be protected," Dr Bennett said.

Given most of Queensland's measles cases have emanated from people bringing the disease in from overseas, both Dr Bennett and Dr Young stressed the importance of young people, in particular, checking their vaccination status before travelling.

"It's as important as packing your suit case or making sure your visa is in order," Dr Young said.

Even when a person fully recovers from measles, a rare side effect of the virus, which can strike years later, is a cruel and deadly condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).

Anti-vaxxers threaten to hijack the measles debate.
Anti-vaxxers threaten to hijack the measles debate.

 

SSPE is a degenerative neurological condition, primarily affecting children and young adults.

Those affected may initially experience behavioural changes and movement problems. By the later stages of the illness, they can progress to a vegetative state before eventually succumbing to the disease.

Given the potential severity of a single case of the virus, Dr Young said: "I think it's already a bad year for measles in Queensland with 12 cases before we've hit the end of April."

DETAILS OF MEASLES CASES THIS YEAR

TOWNSVILLE:

Mar 24 A man presents to the Townsville Hospital emergency department with measles symptoms. He had attended the IGA on Bayswater Rd on Mar 19 and Mar 22, United Petrol Station on Bayswater Rd on March 24 and Mount Louisa Medical Centre and United Chemist on Mar 25.

Apr 5 Two more young men come down with the illness. Both are work contacts of the first case.

METRO SOUTH:

Feb 28 A warning is issued about a measles case in Redland City. The person had been at Victoria Point Mall on Feb 16, 17 and 20 and was at Norm Price Park, Redland Showgrounds, on Feb 16. The person visited Aldi at Victoria Point on Feb 17, Carmel College on Feb 18 and 19 and the Good Life Gym at Cleveland on Feb 18.

Mar 10 A measles alert is issued by Metro South Hospital and Health Service for people in Redland City. The infected person had visited the Cleveland Farmers Markets on Mar 3, the Wellington Point Park on Mar 3 and the Woolworths at Capalaba Central on Mar 6.

Mar 26 Queensland Health is notified of a case on Brisbane's southside. The person was at the Brisbane Backpacker Resort at Vulture St, West End, on March 18, 19, 20 and (until 3am) on
Mar 21 The person also visited Coles Marketplace, West End, on Mar 19 and on Mar 21, was at the Brisbane Domestic Airport between 4.20am-5.30am before boarding Qantas Flight QF1543 for Canberra at 8am.

Mar 30 A case of measles was diagnosed in a person who attended a movie night at Canossa Kindergarten, Coorparoo, on Brisbane's southside, on Mar 30, between 5pm-7.30pm.

Apr 8 A man is diagnosed with measles after arriving at Roma Street Bus Station from Casino, at 9.34pm on Apr 6. He arrived late at Somewhere to Stay backpacker hostel in Highgate Hill.

METRO NORTH:

Jan 7 A measles alert is issued after a male passenger who flew into Brisbane on China Southern Airlines flight CZ381 from Guangzhou on Jan 5 is diagnosed. The man was at Brisbane International Airport between 8.30am-10am.

Mar 25 A case of measles is confirmed by the Metro North Public Health Unit. The man had visited The Sportsman Hotel, Spring Hill, 8pm-10.30pm on Mar 15; travelled on the Ferny Grove line from Mitchelton to Central Station at 1.30pm on Mar 16; attended the Fitness First Gym, Elizabeth St, Brisbane, 4pm-5.30pm on Mar 17;
was at Palace Cinemas, James St, Fortitude Valley, 8.30pm-11pm on Mar 18 and attended Discount Drug Stores at Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley 10.30-11.30am on Mar 19 and from 10.30-11.30am on Mar 21.

SUNSHINE COAST:

Feb 16 A person who acquired measles in South East Asia flies into Brisbane on Tiger Airways flight TR 0221 at 9.35am while infectious.

WEST MORETON:

Jan 8 Measles case reported to the West Moreton Public Health Unit. The person attended South Bank on January 4, 2019.



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