The Measles Outbreak: What Do I Need to Know as a Parent?
What is Measles?
Measles is caused by an extremely contagious virus (contagious means that it spreads quickly from person to person). It was very common indeed prior to the introduction of immunisation as part of the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) – in fact almost all children caught it at some point. But because it was eradicated by the immunisation schedule in Australia, most people don’t realise (or remember) how horrible and dangerous it can be.
How is Measles spread?
Measles is spread by coughs and sneezes. Symptoms first appear about 1 to 2 weeks after catching the virus. It starts with a high temperature, feeling unwell, and usually a cough, sore throat and red eyes. Then the rash occurs, starting on the head and face before spreading down the body and limbs over the next 3 or 4 days – take a look at the picture. Sometimes there are also funny-looking red spots with white centres inside the mouth. You can catch measles off somebody from the time they first feel unwell up until 4 days after the rash has appeared.
What’s so bad about measles?
Measles, as described above, is a horrible illness, regardless of the potentially serious complications it can cause. Complications occur most commonly in small children and babies, as well as in the elderly, and include meningitis, pneumonia, middle ear infections, diarrhoea and immune compromise. Measles can also cause febrile convulsions in children and can lead to long-term lung conditions. In rare cases it can cause serious brain injury and death – this, however, is much more common in young babies.
In Victoria in the 1960’s around 800 children were hospitalised and around 150 children died of measles. It’s a nasty illness. It went away. It’s now coming back in the form of localised outbreaks.
Why is Measles Coming Back?
The evidence is clear. Immunisation is a safe and effective way to prevent measles. Serious complications from immunisations are extremely rare and the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
But for reasons ranging from ignorance to fear, to even corruption, certain public figures and disgraced members of the medical establishment have fuelled a public debate over an argument that was settled by evidence many years ago. As a result, perfectly sensible parents have understandably become confused and worried about immunisation safety, leading to a drop in immunisation rates. Other parents view the refusal of immunisation as a part of an alternative lifestyle choice.
The risk to individuals and communities of not vaccinating against Measles
At Qoctor, we wholly endorse alternative lifestyles and freedom of choice and expression- except when it comes to immunisation. Because when anybody chooses not to immunise THEIR child they also put YOUR child at risk of a potentially serious illness.
The risk of contracting measles is far higher in an unimmunised child than a child who has received an immunisation. But it’s not quite as simple as that – “Herd Immunity” is required to protect a population from a contagious infection. With measles, immunisation needs to be achieved in 90 to 95% of all children, so that it can’t cause outbreaks in the community. In areas where this herd immunity is low, measles can spread (often starting from somebody who has caught it abroad). In that case, people who can’t be immunised because they’re too young or because they have medical problems are put at high risk. Even immunised people are put at a small risk of catching the illness, because no immunisation is ever 100% effective.
What should I do if I think my child has Measles?
Give them paracetamol and try to keep them hydrated with small frequent sips of water. Seek immediate medical attention, telling the clinic your reason for needing a doctor. Try to prevent contact between the affected patient and anybody else, keeping them isolated until a diagnosis is reached.