Local health authorities have alerted doctors and emergency departments of the possibility of measles cases presenting and is again asking people to watch for symptoms, after four confirmed cases in the Coffs Harbour-Woolgoolga area.
A further suspected case in an infant is being investigated. The cases occurred after two unvaccinated school-aged children returned from an overseas holiday with the disease and infected two classmates.
Three of the four primary school-aged children are unvaccinated.
Director of North Coast Public Health Unit, Paul Corben said other cases may emerge as measles – which is spread in the air through coughing or sneezing – is highly infectious among people not fully immunised.
“I urge parents to ensure that their children are fully immunised to protect them and others in the community against infectious diseases. Infants under 12 months of age are particularly vulnerable to measles as they are too young to be vaccinated,” Mr Corben said.
“Despite the Coffs Harbour area having a high vaccination rate of 93 per cent of five year olds fully vaccinated, we have taken the precaution, under recent state legislation, of excluding 13 children from attending school who are not vaccinated or have not received the full course of two doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.”
Mr Corben said the Local Health District’s public health unit is contacting people known to have been in contact with these cases.
Anyone in the Coffs Harbour-Woolgoolga area who is not vaccinated against measles should be alert to symptoms, particularly those who were in Woolgoolga on 28 August or in the Coffs Harbour central business district on 29 or 30 August 2018. As the investigation is ongoing, other places and times of potential exposure may be identified.
“The time from exposure to the disease and the onset of symptoms is typically about 10 days but can be as long as 18 days so people should be alert to symptoms until 17 September,” Mr Corben said.
Measles symptoms 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.
Mr Corben said along with infants, young adults are also most likely to be susceptible to measles.
“People in the 20 to 40-year age bracket may have missed out on the full vaccination program for measles – as it was changed during the 1990s to include a second dose with a national school-based catch up – and mistakenly believe they are protected against the disease.
“The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and highly effective protection against measles, and is available for free for those aged one to 52 from your GP. If you are unsure whether you have had two doses, it is quite safe to have another dose.”
Protecting children from potentially deadly diseases is a key priority for the NSW Government, which has invested approximately $130 million in the 2018-19 Immunisation Program budget, including Commonwealth and state vaccines.
The latest Annual Immunisation Coverage Report shows vaccination rates in NSW are at their highest level ever, with more than 94 per cent of five year olds vaccinated against measles.
NSW children at one and five years of age have some of the highest measles vaccine uptake in Australia.
Mr Corben said it was important for people to see their GP if they have symptoms, and limit exposure to others until the GP has made a diagnosis: “Vaccination is your best protection against this extremely contagious disease.”
If you are concerned you may be at risk of measles, phone the North Coast Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.