NSW Health today launched a MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) High School-based Catch-up Program to tackle the problem of a growing number of students being diagnosed with measles since 2010.
Up to 40 per cent of NSW high school students may be missing doses of MMR.
Director of Communicable Diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said recent outbreaks and MMR immunisation coverage rates have identified an urgent need for such a program.
“The campaign will start in July at the beginning of term three and will be offered to more than 140 NSW public schools,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“It will focus on high schools mostly in Western and South Western Sydney but will try to reach any pockets where the highest rates of under-vaccinated students reside.“
“Parents will be asked to complete a consent form and return it to their school in time for the start of this important program.“
“We are advising parents that if your child does not go to one of the participating schools and has not had two doses of measles containing vaccine, they are able to obtain the free MMR vaccine from their doctor.“
“Two doses of MMR vaccine provide life-long immunity for 99 per cent of people vaccinated.“
“Teenagers and young adults are at higher risk of measles because many of them missed one or both of their routine measles vaccinations as infants.“
“This also leaves them vulnerable to rubella and mumps, as immunisation against these three conditions is given via the combined MMR vaccine.“
“Many young adults have contracted measles while travelling overseas or have been infected by others who have brought it back into the country.“
“Importantly if the MMR High School-based Catch-up Program is successful, it could be rolled out to other schools in NSW in 2015.”
From January to April, 2014, 14 teenagers/young adults contracted measles overseas and brought the infection back to NSW.
In 2012, there were 172 measles notifications, a significant increase from 90 in 2011 and 26 in 2010.
Of the 172 cases in 2012, two were imported from overseas and 169 were found to be linked to an imported case. Another was locally acquired but presumably acquired from an unidentified imported case.
There were 58 notifications in children aged less than five years, with 37 notifications in infants aged less than 1 year (who were too young to be vaccinated).
Measles is a highly infectious virus causing fever, cough and a rash. One in 15 children with measles develops pneumonia and 1 in 1,000 develops encephalitis (brain inflammation).
For every 10 children who develop measles encephalitis, one will die and many will have permanent brain damage.
Mumps is an infection disease causing swollen neck glands and fever. One in 5,000 infected children will develop brain inflammation.
Mumps may cause infertility or permanent deafness and infection in the first three months of pregnancy may result in miscarriage.
Rubella is an infectious viral disease causing rash, fever and swollen glands. It causes severe abnormalities in nine out of 10 babies of women who catch the infection during the early stage of pregnancy.