By Loretta Florance.
The measles is an infectious disease caused by the morbillivirus.
It once infected hundreds of thousands of Australian kids, but was declared eradicated in Australia in 2014.
But every once in a while, a new case of the measles is brought in from overseas, prompting state health departments to issue a warning for people to look out for signs and symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can take 10 to 14 days to develop after infection.
The most distinctive is the measles rash.
“The classic rash is quite an obvious lumpy red rash, that starts on the head but progresses all over the body,” said Robert Booy, from the National Centre for Immunisations and Research Surveillance.
Otherwise, expect the same sorts of symptoms you’d have when you catch a really bad cold.
That doesn’t sound so bad…
If it’s a mild to moderate case, you’re in good health, you keep up your fluids and treat the fever, it’s usually not so bad — but there are a couple of catches.
Firstly, it knocks your immune system around and can leave you susceptible to other infectious diseases for about three years.
Secondly, many years later, if you’re very unlucky, you might develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a progressive and disabling brain disorder, which will eventually kill you.
“Unfortunately SSPE may well manifest itself many years, sometimes decades, after the actual initial measles infection,” said Angela Newbound, the co-convenor for the immunisation special interest group for the Public Health Association of Australia.
“SSPE is a life-threatening condition, it is very rare, but it is a possibility for anybody that’s had measles disease.”
If you have a bad case of the measles, complications can include ear, eye, brain and lung infections, which can be life-threatening.
“Measles encephalitis would probably be one of the most serious complications, so you get inflammation and swelling of the brain, so that can lead to very long-term disabilities,” Ms Newbound said.
Measles encephalitis itself can also kill you.
So, back in the day, when major outbreaks of measles happened every few years, it was very grim.
“Before we had immunisation, we would have major outbreaks of measles every two to three years, in which many thousands of children would be affected,” Professor Booy said.
“[Around] one in 1000 die, so if you had 100,000 cases you could have up to 100 deaths.