Three cases of measles which have been confirmed over the past four days are believed to be linked.Victoria’s acting Chief Health Officer, Dr Finn Romanes, said he was concerned that the investigation was strongly indicating there were now multiple undetected cases in the community potentially spreading the infection.
The three include a young person whose case was made public on Friday, who had been in Shepparton, the city, Melbourne Airport and Queensland in late June when she was infectious with the illness.
Dr Romanes said there was no direct connection between the three cases, but investigations suggested there was now a potential spread of infection in Geelong, the Surf Coast, the western and north-west suburbs of Melbourne, and the inner city.
He said the three cases were all aged from 18 up to 30 years, all became infected in early to mid June and none had recently travelled overseas – the usual route by which measles is introduced to Australia.
“Because of this, our concern is that there was a person or persons who probably had travelled overseas, and have since unknowingly passed on measles to these three people in the western suburbs and Barwon area – and there may be more,” Dr Romanes said.
“There is now the potential for these three people and anyone else was has been infected to pass on the disease and create a significant outbreak.
“Anyone unwell with a fever and rash who is not fully vaccinated for measles should ring ahead to their doctor or hospital and alert them that they may have measles.
“The doctor or hospital will then be able to immediately isolate them whilst assessing for measles, which will minimise spread to others.”
Dr Romanes also said the cases highlighted the vital importance of people being immunised against measles.
The groups of people most at risk of catching measles are:
- Anyone who is unvaccinated, including those who had only one of the two required doses of measles-containing vaccine.
- Adults born since 1966 - as many in this age group did not receive measles vaccine.
- People at any age who are immunocompromised, even if they have had measles or have been immunised. This includes people with diseases such as cancer, and people who are undergoing cancer treatment or are on high-dose steroids.
“We are concerned that people may have been infected from coming into contact with these cases in mid to late June,” Dr Romanes said.
“Measles has an incubation period of up to 18 days so illness acquired from contact could still be coming through, and cases could still remain infectious for many days.”
The disease is now uncommon in Australia because of the widespread use of the measles vaccine. It is important to continue immunising children because of the risk the infection can be brought in by travellers arriving from overseas.
Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that can cause serious illness, particularly in very young children and adults. People can develop pneumonia and other serious complications from the disease, and those with measles often need to be hospitalised.
Dr Romanes said most cases of measles in Victoria were linked to international travel, with the disease more prevalent overseas. People most likely to develop the illness are unvaccinated people who have travelled overseas, or unvaccinated people who have been in contact with them on their return.
People unsure of their immunisation status should get the vaccine as soon as possible. Travellers and adults born after 1966 will get excellent protection from a single MMR shot within a couple of weeks.
Measles usually begins with common cold symptoms such as fever, sore throat, red eyes and a cough. The characteristic measles rash usually begins 3-7 days after the first symptoms, generally starting on the face and then spreading to the rest of the body.
Latest figures show that 94% per cent of Victorian children aged up to 5 years are fully immunised against measles – but Dr Romanes urged parents of all children to ensure their immunisations are up-to-date.
Reviewed 02 July 2016