Protected: Public Health nurse Sue Devlin vaccinates Kara Garchevic yesterday.
Protected: Public Health nurse Sue Devlin vaccinates Kara Garchevic yesterday.

Fears of measles epidemic

A MEASLES outbreak at Tweed Heads has North Coast Area Health Service officials concerned the disease could spread quickly through the region’s population due to low vaccination rates.

The director for public health for the NCAHS, Paul Corben, said eight people had been infected by the disease at Tweed Heads after a student came back from an overseas holiday carrying the infection. The majority of those infected were not vaccinated.

“We are quite concerned because measles doesn’t often occur in Australia because we generally have high vaccination rates,” Mr Corben said.

“Unfortunately, the community most at risk is those with low vaccination rates and there are pockets on the North Coast which we are particularly concerned about.”

Mr Corben said the Byron Shire had a particularly poor rate of vaccination.

The last reported case of measles to present itself to the NCAHS involved a man in March who also picked up the infection while on an overseas holiday.

However, there is an unconfirmed report of another case of measles at Kyogle.

“Measles is a highly infectious disease. It can be life-threatening. One-third of people who contract it will get a complication, such as an ear infection, diarrhoea or pneumonia,” Mr Corben said.

“Less common, but more serious, is that about one in a thousand people can develop encephalitis, and about 10 to 15 per cent of them may die.

“About 15 to 40pc of those can also develop permanent brain damage.”

A rare condition called SSPE – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis – that is always fatal, can affect one in 200,000 cases. It can occur about seven years after the sufferer contracts measles.

Meanwhile, the whooping cough outbreak that reached its peak in early 2009 has receded.

From 2003 to 2007, the NCAHS had reported 173 cases per year on average, but in 2008 that soared to 1009.

Last year it reached 1392 and also resulted in the death of a 35-day-old baby.

However, due to increased vaccination and immunity built up by those who contracted the disease, rates have dropped to 196 reported cases so far this year.

Mr Corben said whooping cough vaccination, unlike measles, was not effective for a lifetime and continuous booster shots were recommended.

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