Older Aussies warned to check measles vaccination status as cases reported

Heading overseas? Measles is one of your risks. Get vaccinated.

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There have been 172 notifications of measles in Australia so far in 2019.

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ARE you fully vaccinated against measles? Are you planning on travelling overseas?

These are the question the Australian Academy of Science is asking all Australians as confirmed cases of the infection have been reported in Perth, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Cairns in the past month and outbreaks are happening across the globe.

According to the Australian Department of Health's National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System there have been 172 notifications of measles in Australia so far in 2019 compared to 103 in 2018.

Many people think measles is no longer a health issue in Australia or consider it a childhood inconvenience, but it is, in fact, a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease with the potential for long-term complications.

And older Australians should be thinking about their vaccination status as those born from 1966 to the 1990s may not have had the two doses necessary to impart immunity.

The Department of Health, in partnership with the Academy, has released educational and promotional materials to inform consumers and health professionals about the dangers of the disease.

Public health expert Professor David Durrheim from the University of Newcastle, who features in the materials, said most measles cases are Australians who are unprotected from the disease, travelling overseas to places where measles is spreading, and bringing it back.

"The Philippines has had a very large outbreak with large numbers of deaths in young children. There have been outbreaks in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia," Professor Durrheim said.

While measles is more common in developing countries where vaccines are less widely available- particularly in parts of Africa and Asia-outbreaks have also occurred in destinations that a lot of Australians might consider 'low-risk' for getting sick including parts of Europe, the United States and New Zealand.

In Australia, people born before 1966 are generally considered to be immune to measles, as it was highly likely that they had the infection during childhood. After vaccines were introduced and rolled out in the early 1960s, the spread of measles was rapidly reduced. Two doses, rather than a single shot, were introduced to the National Immunisation Program schedule in the early 1990s. This means there may be people born between 1966 and 1990 without existing immunity from a natural measles infection or due to having missed out on one or two vaccinations. - Australian Academy of Science

Academy Fellow Professor Ian Frazer FAA, from the University of Queensland, said it takes just one person to come into the country with measles, and less than 95 per cent of the community immunised, and the virus can spread.

Measles: what you need to know

"It's not just the unvaccinated who pose a risk to public health: many people in Australia may be under-vaccinated without realising it," said Professor Frazer, who also features in the materials.

The latest immunisation coverage data for two-year old children in Australia shows coverage of more than 93 per cent for the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine provides life-long protection.

Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine provides life-long protection.

"Those most at risk of developing complications tend to be the same people who are unable to be vaccinated against the disease so it's crucial that others in the community are fully immunised to prevent the spread of disease to the most vulnerable in our society," Professor Frazer said.

"Two doses of the MMR vaccine provide lifelong protection. Check your vaccination records and if in doubt about whether you've had two doses speak with your GP. It is safe to have another MMR vaccine if you don't have evidence of a second dose. This ensures you've got the best possible protection."

People under 20 years of age, refugees and other humanitarian entrants of any age, can get measles vaccines for free through the National Immunisation Program if they did not receive the vaccines in childhood.

If you are not sure if you are fully vaccinated and particularly if you are planning on going overseas, see your GP about vaccination. The cost is dependent on which vaccine is used and what state you live in.

The Department of Health recommends measles immunisation for the groups listed here

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