Status:
Active
Health alert:
170015
Date Issued:
05 Dec 2017
Issued by:
Dr Brett Sutton, Deputy Chief Health Officer, Victoria
Issued to:
General practitioners and hospital emergency departments

Key messages

  • There has been one confirmed case of measles in Melbourne with the infection likely to have been acquired overseas.
  • The case was infectious while at a number of places across Melbourne including:
    • Tram route #19 CBD; Bourke Street Mall: Myer, David Jones and H&M clothing store (29 November 2017)
    • Tram route #19 CBD; DFO Southern Cross: Cotton-On clothing store; Barkly Square Brunswick: Woolworths and Coles (30 November 2017).
  • Be alert for measles in patients presenting with a fever at rash onset, particularly if they attended any of the places listed below. Secondary cases may have symptoms start anytime from 6 December up until 18 December 2017.
  • Manage suspected cases in the GP setting if appropriate and avoid sending to a hospital emergency department unless the patient is severe enough to warrant admission to hospital. Take blood for measles serology in all suspected cases and isolate suspected cases to minimise the risk of transmission within your department/practice.
  • Notify the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Section at the Department of Health and Human Services on 1300 651 160 of suspected cases immediately.
  • Discuss whether to take nose and throat swabs for PCR with the department if your suspicion for measles is high. Approval is required prior to PCR testing at the reference laboratory. PCR testing for measles does not attract a Medicare rebate. 

What is the issue?

There has been one confirmed case of measles in Melbourne. The infection was likely acquired overseas. The case attended a number of locations in and around Melbourne while infectious.

As measles is highly infectious through airborne transmission, other secondary cases may occur in susceptible people. Measles has an incubation period of between seven and 18 days (average 14 days from exposure to rash) so should be considered in any susceptible person who presents with a compatible illness, with an onset date between 6 December 2017 and 18 December 2017.

Key locations for exposure include:

  • 29 November 2017 – Tram route #19 CBD; Bourke Street Mall: Myer, David Jones and H&M clothing store
  • 30 November 2017 – Tram route #19 CBD; DFO Southern Cross: Cotton-On clothing store; Barkly Square Brunswick: Woolworths and Coles.

Anyone who presents with signs and symptoms compatible with measles should be tested and immediately notified to the department on 1300 651 160. Do not wait for test results before notifying. There should be an especially high index of suspicion if they have attended any of the areas stated above and are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated for measles.

Who is at risk?

Children or adults born during or since 1966 who do not have documented evidence of receiving two doses of a measles-containing vaccine or do not have documented evidence of immunity are considered to be susceptible to measles. People who are immunocompromised are also at risk.

Symptoms and transmission

Clinical features of measles include prodromal fever, a severe cough, conjunctivitis and coryza. Individuals, especially children, are typically unwell. The most important clinical predictors are the following features:

  • generalised, maculopapular rash, usually lasting three or more days, AND
  • fever (at least 38°C, if measured) present at the time of rash onset, AND
  • cough, coryza or conjunctivitis.

Measles is transmitted by airborne droplets and direct contact with discharges from respiratory mucous membranes of infected persons and less commonly, by articles freshly soiled with nose and throat secretions. Measles is highly infectious and can persist in the environment for up to two hours.

The incubation period is variable and averages 10 days (range: seven to18 days) from exposure to the onset of fever, with an average of 14 days from exposure to the onset of rash.

The infectious period of patients with measles is roughly five days before, to four days after, the appearance of the rash.

Use the most appropriate tests for diagnosis depending on timing of symptoms and presentation:

  • Take blood for serological confirmation in all suspected cases. If a patient has measles, IgM is reliably positive if the rash has been present for three or more days. IgG in the absence of IgM indicates the patient is protected and means measles is unlikely.
  • Nose and throat swabs for PCR diagnosis are best for early diagnosis (including prior to rash); you must contact the Department prior to taking swabs to gain approval for these to be tested at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory. PCR testing for measles does not attract a Medicare rebate.

This picture is typical of rash on the face. This is a rash on day three in a young boy.

Example of measles rash on the face of a young boy.

Picture courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Recommendations

  • Be alert for new measles cases – ensure all staff, especially triage nurses, have a high index of suspicion for patients presenting with a febrile rash.
  • Notify suspected cases immediately to the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Section via telephone on 1300 651 160 (24 hours).
  • Manage suspected cases in GP setting if appropriate and avoid sending to a hospital emergency department unless patient is severe enough to warrant admission to hospital. Take blood for serological confirmation.
  • To minimise the risk of measles transmission within your department/practice:
    • avoid keeping patients with a febrile rash illness in shared waiting areas
    • give the suspected case a single use mask and isolate them, until a measles diagnosis can be excluded
    • leave vacant all consultation rooms used in the assessment of patients with suspected measles for at least 30 minutes after the consultation.
  • Seek advice from the Department of Health and Human Services Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Section regarding:
    • the need for PCR diagnosis
    • the management of susceptible hospital or clinic contacts
    • prevention of measles in susceptible contacts.
  • On advice, follow up all persons who attended the emergency department or clinic at the same time as a case and for 30 minutes after the visit. These people are considered to be exposed to the measles virus.
  • Check your staff vaccination records.
  • Earlier outbreaks have affected health care workers, including some who have not been involved in the direct care of measles cases and have only been in the same ward, clinic, or department as a case. All staff born during or since 1966 should have documentation of two doses of measles-containing vaccine, or laboratory-confirmed evidence of past measles infection.

Clinical and consumer information

The Australian Immunisation Handbook; 10th edition, 2013

Department of Health and Human Services disease information and advice - Measles

Better Health Channel - Measles

Contacts

For more information please contact the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control section at the Department of Health and Human Services on 1300 651 160 (24 hours). 

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