Measles alert: four people with measles have been in planes, surgeries, hospitals

The measles rash on the face of a child. Photo: Centers for Disease Control and PreventionRecent plane passengers, hostel residents, hospital and medical centre patients are among those at risk of developing measles following confirmed cases of the highly contagious disease in Sydney in late March and early April.

NSW Health has issued a community alert after four people with measles are known to have been in close contact with large groups of people while they were still infectious but before they were diagnosed.

Two travellers spent time in hostels in Cairns and Magnetic Island while they were infectious and then respectively travelled to Sydney on a Virgin Airlines flight on March 28 and a Tiger Airlines flight the following day, the health department said.

One of them also spent time in the Royal North Shore Hospital Emergency Department.

Meanwhile, two children who probably contracted measles in India were most likely contagious when they took flight AI302 from Delhi to Sydney, arriving on March 30.

They spent time in a medical centre in Blacktown and later Mt Druitt Hospital on April 2.

NSW Health Communicable Diseases Branch Director Vicky Sheppeard said people who had not received two doses of the vaccine and may have been in contact with those people should look out for symptoms over the next days and weeks.

Symptoms include fever, sore eyes and a cough, followed three or four days later by a blotchy rash that spreads from the head and neck to the rest of the body, and is not itchy.

It is spread when a person with measles coughs or sneezes into the air, which is then breathed in by other people, and can be contracted by being in the same room as an infected person.

About 20 per cent of people who develop the disease are hospitalised and one in 1000 will get inflammation of the brain.

Until about 10 years ago it was the highest cause of child death globally, Dr Sheppeard said. International efforts to eradicate the disease through vaccination have limited its spread, and it is rarely seen in Australia.

There have been six cases in NSW this year.

Dr Sheppeard said the last biggest outbreak was in 2012, when 172 people contracted the disease, with 170 catching it from one person who brought it back from Thailand.

“When a person who has measles has been in a setting like an airplane, like a hospital, like a general practice, we can quickly get more cases,” Dr Sheppeard said. “It’s the most infectious communicable disease there is.”

The measles vaccine is given in two doses at the age of 12 months and 18 months.

The children who probably brought the disease back from India were too young to be vaccinated, while the travellers were from a European country where vaccination rates are lower, Dr Sheppeard said.

“We will probably see further cases in backpackers.”

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