Why the new measles outbreak in Victoria is worrying

Andrew Munro 7 July 2016


Doctors warn it could be the start of a new outbreak.

The past week has seen a spate of measles in Victoria. While there were only three new cases of the disease, it's important not to underestimate what this means for the community as a whole.

Finn Romanes, Victoria's acting chief health officer, has said that while these are only the cases we know about, there's a good chance more have gone unnoticed. Vaccinations are extremely effective at stopping the disease, but areas with a lot of unvaccinated people are at a higher risk of seeing measles spread.

These new cases are significant for several reasons.

  • Even a small number of people with measles significantly raised the chances of a mass outbreak. The disease's true danger is that is can lead to severe illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia and a range of other complications that can, in rare circumstances, prove fatal (though it's not one of the most common causes of death in Australia).
  • The virus has an incubation period of about 18 days, and at first the symptoms can be mistaken for a common cold. It's possible that the coming weeks will see a lot more cases emerge. Dr Romanes has advised that the three infected people probably contracted measles in the second half of June, but only started showing severe symptoms now.
  • None of the three initial people infected had travelled outside of Australia recently, which means they contracted measles somewhere in the country.

Whether these three new cases are isolated incidents or the start of a much larger and more severe outbreak remains to be seen.

In 2015 the Australian government started strongly encouraging widespread Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations, which effectively prevent the risk of contracting the disease. Unfortunately MMR vaccinations aren't safe for children under the age of 12 months, and some people are allergic to the vaccine formula. As such, it's important that everyone who's able to do so gets an MMR vaccine, as this greatly reduces the danger the virus poses. Many health insurance plans cover the costs of MMR and other vaccinations. You can compare health insurance plan options using our comparison tables.

Picture: Shutterstock

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