You’ve booked your flights and accommodation, suitcase and passport at the ready - but have you made sure you’re protected against measles?
Bring back memories, not measles!
Measles remains a common illness in various parts of the world, including many which are popular destinations for Australian travellers, such as the Philippines, India, Indonesia (including Bali), and Thailand. Measles is also common in parts of the Middle East and most of Africa.
Large outbreaks have been occurring across Europe and South America in the past few years, and more recently there have been a number of outbreaks in the United States of America.
If you are travelling to countries where measles is common or where outbreaks are occurring, you are at risk of catching the disease if you are not fully protected. You may also risk exposing others to this highly infectious, serious illness either while travelling, or when you return to Australia.
How do I know whether I’m protected?
Measles is a vaccine preventable disease. Two doses of measles vaccine provides lifelong protection against measles in 99 of 100 vaccinated people.
People who have had measles infection in the past are also immune to measles. In Australia, people born before 1966 are generally considered to be immune to measles as it is highly likely that they had the infection during childhood.
There are a number of ways to check whether you are protected against measles and your GP can help you to do this. You might find evidence of immunity in places like a ‘blue book’, or medical record, a blood test result indicating immunity or in the Australian Immunisation Register. It is better to have documented evidence of being immune, than to rely on your own or your parent’s memory or recall, and it is safe to receive more than two doses.
What can I do if I’m not protected?
If you are unable to find evidence that you are immune to measles, your GP can arrange for you to receive one or two doses of measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine for free if you were born during or after 1966 and are more than 12 months of age. It’s best to receive the vaccine at least two weeks before you depart, to allow your body time to develop immunity.
If you are travelling to areas where measles is common with children aged between 9 and 18 months, you can discuss adjusting your child’s vaccination schedule to ensure they are protected prior to travel. The first dose of vaccine can be given as early as 9 months of age and the second dose can be administered 28 days after the first dose. If you start your child’s schedule before 12 months, they will still need to receive the measles mumps rubella varicella (MMRV) vaccine at 18 months of age, even if they have received 2 doses of MMR.
What if I’ve been overseas unprotected?
If you’ve recently travelled to a country or area where measles is common and you were susceptible to measles, you should be alert for symptoms for three weeks after your last day of travel.
Susceptible people who are exposed to measles will usually develop symptoms about 10 days after they are exposed. However, it can take as few as seven and as many as 18 days for symptoms to develop.
Measles symptoms include:
- cough, runny nose, and sore red eyes
- general tiredness and feeling unwell
- a spotty, non-itchy rash that starts on your head and neck and spreads to the rest of your body.
If you’ve been travelling and are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention. However, it is important to call ahead to the medical practice or emergency department to advise them of your symptoms, so that measures can be taken to limit your exposure to other people when you arrive.
Be sure to tell your doctor about your recent travel.
If more than three weeks have passed since you returned and you have not developed measles, visit your GP to discuss receiving the measles vaccine.