Measles Alert Triggered by Child who Travelled to Various Places while Infected with Disease

A MEASLES alert has been issued for parts of Sydney after an infant who contracted the disease overseas visited various places throughout the city.

The child was too young to be vaccinated and developed measles after returning from a trip to South Asia, according to a statement from NSW Health.

The infant is now isolated and recovering at home but there are fears for members of the public who may have come into contact with the child after it was taken to various places in the CBD and outer suburbs and travelled on a train from Bankstown to St James station between March 16-21. The child also visited: The Wesley Conference Centre on Sydney’s Pitt St; the Rickard Road Medical Centre and Chemist in Bankstown and the suburb’s Emergency Department during that same period.

Measles is highly contagious and is spread in the air through coughing or sneezing by someone who is unwell with the disease.

Symptoms of measles include fever, sore eyes and a cough followed three or four days later by a red, blotchy rash spreading from the head and neck to the rest of the body.

The time from exposure to the onset of symptoms is typically about 10 days but can be as long as 18 days so people should remain alert for symptoms until 9 April 2018.

NSW Health Communicable Diseases director Vicky Sheppeard said those most likely to be susceptible to measles are infants under 12 months of age who are too young to be vaccinated and young adults.

“People in the 20-40 year age bracket may have missed out on the full vaccination program for measles, which was changed in 1998, including a national school-based catch-up, and mistakenly believe they are protected against the disease,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and highly effective protection against measles, and is available for free for those aged 1 to 52 from your GP.

“If you are unsure whether you have had two doses, it is quite safe to have another dose.”

NSW children at one and five years of age have some of the highest measles vaccine uptake in Australia.

Dr Sheppeard said it was important for people to watch for symptoms, arrange to see the GP if concerned, and limit exposure to others until the GP has made a diagnosis.

“Our public health units are contacting people known to have been in contact with this latest case to offer preventive injections,

where appropriate,” she said.

“Vaccination is your best protection against this extremely contagious disease.”

A woman prepares a syringe for vaccination against measles. Picture: AFP / Schneyder Mendoza.
The NSW Health Dept has issued a measles alert.

Childhood measles has been linked to an increased risk of developing chronic lung disease, but only in adults with asthma and a history of smoking. An Australian study of more than 8000 Tasmanians found childhood measles infection — a highly contagious respiratory infection — appears to compound the associations between smoking, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults.

The researchers believe it may be possible that airway damage from childhood measles predisposes an individual to asthma-like symptoms and increased susceptibility to airway obstruction if they also smoked.

“While we have found measles to not have an effect by itself, our findings suggest it could contribute to COPD when combined with significant asthma and smoking histories,” said lead author Dr Jennifer Perret at University of Melbourne.

“Our research has uncovered childhood measles to be a potential predisposing factor for COPD risk and supports the public health recommendation of childhood immunisation,” said Dr Perret.

Not smoking, however, is the most important message, noted Dr Perret. For the study, published in journal Respirology, researchers used the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study (TAHS) cohort born in 1961. A history of childhood measles infection was obtained from school medical records.

Differences between asthma, smoking and measles subgroups provided further insight into the complex causes of obstructive lung diseases for middle-aged adults, said Dr Perret.

About 25 per cent of smokers developed COPD, and up to 20 per cent of COPD cases involve people who have not smoked. Other known risk factors, such as occupational exposures and second-hand tobacco smoke, did not explain the excess risk.