Canberrans are being urged to be on the alert for measles symptoms after a person returning from overseas was diagnosed with the virus – the third case in the ACT in the last two months.
According to authorities, the person became unwell prior to leaving Pakistan and was infectious when arriving at Canberra Airport on Sunday, 3 February and while there between 10 am and 11 am.
The current case comes at a time when travellers are being warned that measles is prevalent in South and South East Asia and while the World Health Organisation is saying that record numbers of people have been infected with the virus in Europe.
“Measles continues to circulate in many overseas countries, so we urge people travelling overseas to check their immune status before they leave,” said ACT Public Health Physician Dr Kerryn Coleman.
Dr Coleman said that to date no further cases have been linked to the current measles case, which ACT Health confirmed late last Friday (February 8).
She said that as part of their investigations, ACT Health is following up identified contacts at Canberra Airport on February 3.
“Anyone who was at the Canberra Airport on that Sunday should be aware for signs and symptoms of measles from now until 24 February 2019,” Dr Coleman said.
“We urge anyone with symptoms of measles to seek medical advice and to advise their health care provider before arriving at the clinic so that appropriate infection control precautions can be put in place to stop the spread of infection.”
Outbreaks of measles in popular tourist destinations
NSW Health has also issued an alert about the measles case as the traveller is believed to have been infectious during their flight and when they transited through Sydney Airport.
According to NSW Health, the infected Canberra passenger was on flight QR906 from Doha to Sydney departing Doha on Saturday 2 February and arriving at Sydney International Airport at 6:25 am on Sunday 3 February. The passenger was then in the international transit lounge until approximately 9 am before taking flight QR906 to Canberra.
NSW Health said that outbreaks of measles in popular tourist destinations mean the risk for measles being imported into Australia at the moment is high. They also urged travellers to ensure they are fully vaccinated before heading overseas.
Record numbers infected in Europe
According to data released by the World Health Organisation last Thursday (February 7), the total number of people infected with the measles virus in Europe in 2018 was the highest this decade. It was three times the total reported in 2017 and 15 times the record low number of people affected in 2016.
The data on the European Region shows that 72 children and adults were killed by the virus in 2018 and that 82,596 people in 47 of 53 countries contracted measles.
The World Health Organisation says that more children in the European Region are being vaccinated against measles than ever before, but progress has been uneven between and within countries. This has left increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected and resulted in record numbers being affected by the virus.
Symptoms of measles
An ACT Health spokesperson told Region Media that increased measles activity has been noted in December and January across Australia, largely linked to cases who acquired their infections overseas.
“All three of the recent ACT measles cases were linked to overseas travel – either directly, or as secondary case,” the spokesperson said.
Dr Coleman said the Canberra community needs to be aware of the symptoms of measles following confirmation of the recent case. These may include fever, tiredness, runny nose, sore eyes and a cough, followed by a rash which appears two to seven days later.
She said that people generally develop symptoms 7-18 days after being exposed to a person with infectious measles, with 10 days being more common. People are infectious from five days before they develop a rash until four days after.
“Measles can be highly contagious among people who are not fully immunised. This is a timely reminder for Canberrans to ensure their vaccinations are up to date,” Dr Coleman said.
“People born in 1966 and later who do not have two recorded doses of MMR vaccine are also considered susceptible to measles.
“Under the funded Australian National Immunisation Program, two doses of MMR vaccine are given to children at 12 and 18 months of age,” Dr Coleman said.
“The ACT Government funds measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine for adults. Anyone born in or after 1966 who has not previously received two measles-containing vaccines is eligible for free MMR vaccine. This can be obtained from ACT GPs.”