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Checking Your Measles Status Before Travelling Overseas

by Dr Bob Kass - July 10, 2018

Australian travellers are being reminded of the need to check on their “measles” status before heading overseas. Some individuals may have incomplete or no protection and it cannot be assumed that all intended destinations have Australia’s level of herd immunity.  Two doses of the vaccine are necessary for lifetime protection.

SA Health Media Release: School holidays warning for measles hot spots

While case reports may be unusual in Australia (81 cases in 2017) the same cannot be said of many popular overseas destinations. It remains a serious health issue in many less developed countries and outbreaks still occur in well off communities. The index case in Australia is often an unvaccinated or poorly vaccinated returned traveller.

Between January and April 2018, more than 1800 cases of Measles were reported in South West France. There were 2 deaths, one 26 years and the other 32 years.  More than 150 cases have been reported in Wales this year – more than 3 times the number for the same period last year.  In Serbia, between October 2017 and June 2018, more than 5500 cases were reported with 15 deaths. Thirty percent required hospitalisation. Measles is not a benign disease, particularly in adults!  We are very fortunate to be able to protect vulnerable individuals within our community through herd immunity.

Measles was once a “growing up” disease in Australia with most adults “naturally immune” through prior exposure if born before 1966.

Prior to the Measles Initiative in 2001 more than 800,000 children world-wide died each year – most under the age of 5 years. While the number of deaths has significantly dropped (now around 90,000) it still remains a major cause of death in children.

According to CDC in the USA, “in the decade before the live measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an average of 549,000 measles cases and 495 deaths were reported annually”. It is likely more than a 1,000 people developed chronic neurological disability. These figures are likely to be an underestimate as underreporting was common.

There is ample evidence to support the case for immunisation.

measles cases since 1944 demonstrating the benefits or vaccination

Measles is a highly infectious disease. The virus can remain active for up to 2 hours in the air or on surfaces following a cough or sneeze.  Over 90% of close contacts of an infected person will contract the disease if not already immune (previous disease or vaccination).

The symptoms of measles include cough, fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis. It is the secondary health problems which are usually responsible for death. These include pneumonia, diarrhoea leading to malnutrition and encephalitis.  Poor access to health care in poorer countries contributes to the high mortality and survivors may have long term disabilities including blindness.

Measles may be a risk to individuals who may be immunosuppressed for various reasons (illness, medications etc).

If you are travelling overseas, speak to your doctor about your measles status.


Dr Bob Kass

Dr Bob Kass is Medical Director of Globe Medical. He holds specialist qualifications in paediatrics and public health medicine and is one of Australia's pioneers in the discipline of Travel Medicine. 

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