We’re a little over three months into the year, and we’ve clocked over a new milestone already – with the number of measles cases globally having increased by a staggering 300%.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that more than 100,000 cases have been reported worldwide in 2019.
In the whole of 2018, only 28,000 cases were logged.
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In Australia, we’ve had 92 cases confirmed in 2019 – again, close to the number of cases for the whole of last year.
I must admit, I thought that the big problem here was parents who aren’t vaccinating their kids. But, there’s another surprising factor at play here.
Yes, these massive figures are partially driven by parents deciding not to vaccinate their kids. And, yes, the reality is: if people don’t get their act together and seriously consider the implications of not immunising themselves and their children, we could face a situation where measles quite literally catch on.
However, experts suggest there is another factor driving this rapid increase in measles cases – and it’s travelling.
In 2012, a 25-year-old man returned to Australia from Thailand carrying the virus. This one case led to 167 Australian cases during the eight months that followed, largely in southwest Sydney.
What a legacy for this poor bloke! His one infection resulted in more than 160 others getting sick. It’s clear from this type of story that measles are highly infectious – and we’re not talking about an illness that gives you a bit of a rash and a headache, and then you recover.
Measles is a disease that can lead to encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which can be life-threatening and cause brain damage.
Horrifyingly, droplets of the virus can hang about in the air for up to two hours – long after the person infected with the disease has left the room!
Even more horrifyingly, right now, we’re at a tipping point, with measles numbers rising at a rate not seen in decades.
Associate Professor Anita Heywood from the University of New South Wales, who evaluates immunisation programs and immunisation gaps, says the vaccination movement is having an impact on infection rates in the US, which is important, because this is a global problem.
“Australians travel a lot and no matter how well we control measles in Australia, if the world isn’t controlling it as well, we will always have people coming back with it,” she adds.