Victoria on measles alert as infections mount
Victorian health authorities have issued a statewide measles alert to GPs and hospitals amid fears there are “multiple” undiagnosed people who are unwittingly spreading the highly infectious disease in the community.
Warning that the number of cases are likely to mount, Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Finn Romanes said investigations were “strongly indicating there were now multiple undetected cases in the community potentially spreading the infection”.
There are already four confirmed cases, including a young woman who had been in Shepparton, Melbourne’s CBD, Melbourne Airport and Brisbane while infectious with the illness.
Authorities have revealed that three of the cases involved people aged between 18 to 30 years, all of whom became infected in early to mid-June, and none of whom 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.”
Dr Romanes said it was likely that the three had been infected while in Melbourne’s CBD between 10 and 13 June.
But he admitted the source of the infection had yet to be determined, and it was likely that people in outer metropolitan Melbourne, as well as in some Victorian regional areas and interstate had been exposed – one of those infected travelled to Brisbane on 1 July.
“There are many other areas across metropolitan Melbourne where infections may have been acquired, and individuals have attended a range of public settings across Melbourne and in regional Victoria whilst infectious, including Shepparton,” Dr Romanes said.
He said the infection may also have been acquired in Geelong and the Surf Coast, and warned that “it is likely there will be more cases related to this outbreak”.
Family doctors and hospital emergency department staff have been put on alert for measles in patients who present fever at rash onset, particularly if they are not fully immunised or are unaware of their vaccination status.
While measles is uncommon in Australia because of widespread vaccination, it is still prevalent in many areas overseas, and local outbreaks were usually linked to returning travellers.
Nationwide, between 90 and 92 per cent of children are vaccinated against measles, but some adults – particularly those born after 1966 – are not immunised.
Dr Romanes recommended those unsure of their vaccination status to be immunised as soon as possible, and for parents to ensure their child’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
He asked anyone unwell with a fever and rash who was not fully vaccinated for measles to 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,” he said.