Health

Australian measles cases set to escalate to five-year high

The majority of cases are linked to people who became infected overseas.

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More Australians contracted measles infections in the first three months of this year than during any comparable period since 2014.

As of April 4, there were 81 confirmed cases across Australia, more than in all of 2015 and 2017 and just below the 99 recorded cases in 2016. According to the Guardian, current trends will see Australia reach upwards of 300 infections in 2019, a figure not surpassed — besides 2014 — in 22 years.

In 2014, measles cases surged in Australia to 339 before drastically dropping to 74 in 2015. Following the drop, and after it was verified that Australia had no local strain of measles circulating, the disease was declared eliminated by the World Health Organization.

"Measles is a highly contagious virus,” Lucy Deng, pediatrician and immunization specialist at the National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance, told Global Citizen. “If you’re not immune, you have a 90% chance of contracting the virus after being near someone who is infected.”

Alongside global anti-vaccination sentiment, the spate of infections has been linked to travel between Australia and nations where the disease remains widespread. Fortunately, measles outbreaks in Australia have been limited due to high vaccine coverage rates, with 94.5% of 5-year-old children fully immunized. Pockets of anti-vaxxers, however, remain.

The more unimmunized people there are in Australia, Deng stated, the easier the disease is then able to spread once imported.

"Adults in their 20s to 50s may have only received one of the two recommended vaccination doses,” Deng stated. “Therefore, many adult Australians are vulnerable to measles infections when they travel to countries where the virus has not been eliminated. Children under 12 months old, who have not had their measles vaccination, are also susceptible.”

On Tuesday, the ABC reported two infants, aged eight months and 11 months, were diagnosed in Sydney.

Eleven-month-old Liam Eldridge developed a fever, sore eyes, a cough, and a red, blotchy rash after he and his family visited relatives in the Philippines.

His father, David Eldridge, told the ABC his son was unvaccinated. Eldridge claimed he was unaware the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine could be administered to children as young as nine months old.

An outbreak in the Philippines has this year killed over 315 people. The flare-up of the highly contagious disease has also impacted the United States, with 387 cases reported. New Zealand, Madagascar, Japan, Canada, and various European nations have similarly been affected.

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