Doctors are worried about a measles outbreak, after a recent spike in cases.
Doctors are worried about a measles outbreak, after a recent spike in cases. Thinkstock

Doctors fear measles outbreak on the Northern Rivers

A NORTHERN Rivers doctor says he is "struggling" to understand why people won't vaccinate, after a recent spike in measles cases.

After decades of low measles rates, it appears the potentially fatal disease is once again on the rise.

Almost 100 people in Australia have been diagnosed with measles already this year.

The disease can cause serious, sometimes fatal, complications including pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

Dr David Moss, a GP with Cape Byron Medical, said he was concerned about the current increase in measles, around the world and locally.

"I have been following the various measles outbreaks in recent months," he said.

"I have been struggling to understand the swing away from vaccinating against measles in numerous developed and developing countries, mainly as measles is so contagious and so easily prevented by immunisation.

"Vaccination resulted in a 75 per cent decrease in world-wide deaths between 2000 and 2013, with about 85 per cent of children worldwide being vaccinated as of 2014.

"Australia's vaccination program has been very effective in largely eradicating measles as a public health problem in Australia."

Dr Moss said "vaccine misinformation" had fuelled resistance to vaccination.

Measles is spread by coughing and sneezing.

It can cause serious lung infection and brain inflammation and, in a small number of cases, death.

Once you have measles, there is no treatment.

"Measles is highly contagious," Dr Moss said.

"On average, every person who contracts measles will infect 18 others.

"Currently in Australia, the main risk is to under-vaccinated people who travel, especially to South-East Asia, and to those with whom they have contact upon return.

"The Byron and Mullumbimby local areas have a significantly lower immunisation rate for measles, compared to most of Australia, and I worry there is some risk of an outbreak should infected travellers come into contact with some local un-immunised groups."

Dr Alex John, who also works with Cape Byron Medical, has extensive experience with low immunisation rates and the impact on the wider community.

"I believe it is only a matter of time before the past repeats itself," he said.

"People have forgotten.

"Look at the outbreak in New York at the moment.

"We are almost certain to have a similar outbreak here.

"It just takes one person on a plane from the US and the Northern Rivers will be in trouble."

Dr John says understanding the motivation behind the anti-vaccination movement was the key to improving vaccination rates.

"I think it is too easy to blame the anti vax moment, which is simply a manifestation of a wider problem," he said.

"We, the medical community, say 'trust us, you need this', but plenty of people don't trust us, and they simply don't immunise.

"Maybe this is a reflection of the fact that we aren't communicating well to certain parts of the public.

"We aren't seen as being natural, and our research findings somehow don't seem to resonate with the average person.

"I don't have all the answers, but I do know we need to do better."