Students at Mullumbimby High School may have been exposed to measles by visiting Indonesian exchange students.
Students at Mullumbimby High School may have been exposed to measles by visiting Indonesian exchange students.

Mullumbimby HS gives measles vaccinations at school

Students at Mullumbimby High School have been given free measles vaccinations  to stave off a possible outbreak in the anti-vaccination heartland of Northern NSW.

The swift action by health authorities follows a possible exposure to the highly contagious virus by Indonesian exchange students attending Mullumbimby High who were on the same flight to the Gold Coast as two other travellers infected with measles.

Measles is so infectious, up to 90 per cent of unvaccinated people exposed to one person with measles will catch it.

Mullumbimby has the lowest vaccination rate in Australia with just over half of all five- year-olds fully vaccinated.

Acting principal Cameron Johnson sent a letter to parents last Wednesday alerting parents to the risk and offer of vaccination.

"Two passengers who were on the same flight as our Indonesian exchange students have since be diagnosed with measles. As a precaution the Department of Health will visit the school and offer MMR vaccination tomorrow Thursday 11," Mr Johnson said.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health said: "NSW Health can confirm that the measles vaccine will be offered at Mullumbimby High School as exchange students currently hosted at the school were exposed to measles on their flight to Australia.

"The North Coast Public Health Unit is working closely with the school and student group to reduce the risk of measles being introduced to the Mullumbimby community."

In 2013, an unimmunised Byron Bay high school student returned from a trip to Bali with measles forcing the closure of the school.

Four people were infected before the outbreak was contained.

"We had to close the school down so no one got measles. If you take your kids to Bali and they are not immunised you are running a serious risk," local public health physician Dr Brian Pezzutti said.

The move to contain a possible outbreak follows another alert to students, train passengers and shoppers in Sydney and Maitland after a Macquarie University law student in her 20s was diagnosed as the 35 case of confirmed measles since Christmas.

Sydney University immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy said introducing measles to a population with only 50 per cent vaccination could lead to an outbreak.

"A large proportion of the unvaccinated would be affected. If the fire is lit by one or two cases, up to 90 per cent could catch measles," Prof Booy said.

Intensive care specialist Dr Rachel Heap, spokeswoman for the North Rivers Vaccination Supporters group, set up to counter the entrenched anti-vaccine movement, urged parents who had not vaccinated to do so to protect their children.

"A quarter to a third who get it will end up in hospital, but (vaccination) it is a very simple, safe and effective way to protect your child and it will protect others who do not have a choice. Here is to hoping it will not be as bad as it has the potential to be," Dr Heap said.

One in three will develop complications including pneumonia and one in 1000 will die. Another side effect is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare but fatal neurological condition.

North coast resident Cecily Johnson, whose daughter died of SSPE, said Laine contracted measles at 10 months of age before she was immunised.

At age seven she was diagnosed with SSPE and went blind and then lost the ability to walk or speak and died at age 12.

Nationally there have been 92 cases so far with most being imported by travellers or under vaccinated residents returning from South East Asian countries currently experiencing epidemics.

Australia was declared free of measles in 2014 but like other western countries, pockets of the unvaccinated are allowing the potential killer back in to take hold.

Professor Kristine Macartney, the Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research, said travellers need to make sure their shots are up to date.

"One in 15 who get it will develop pneumonia and one in 1000 will develop severe brain swelling which can be fatal, it is a serious illness and there were multiple deaths in Europe last year, measles is a killer," she said.