Six-week-old Seth Ritson was in hospital for three nights with the flu.
Six-week-old Seth Ritson was in hospital for three nights with the flu.

We need to start listening to warnings

OPINION

I was just about to get to writing another measles story and then it hit me. Why am I still writing about this?

As a health reporter for most of my career, I can't count how many measles stories I've done - not to mention flu, whooping cough or chickenpox.

The thing all these stories have in common? They can be prevented with vaccination.

I've also done countless vaccination - and anti-vaccination stories - and yet it seems the message still isn't getting through.

On Friday, a measles alert was issued for Townsville after two more cases were confirmed this week. They came after the first warning about an infectious case on March 26.

In New South Wales, numbers have been much higher. This week, health authorities ­iss­ued a warning after a woman became the 30th person to contract the deadly virus in the state since Christmas.

Her diagnosis came days after it was revealed two babies too young to be vaccinated contracted the virus.

Just last week, I wrote about how a colleague's newborn baby was rushed to the emergency department and in hospital for three nights, forced to undergo all sorts of tests which ultimately revealed he had influenza.

Six-week-old Seth Ritson was only days from getting his shots. His mum Marion suspected his older brother brought the bug home from daycare.

And today, it was revealed North Sydney Boys High is bracing for a measles outbreak after a woman infected with the disease spent more than an hour in the school's uniform shop.

An alarming and unexpected start to the flu season has forced hospitals to become clogged with patients and left staff run off their feet well before the usual winter peak.

It's now we start to get prompted to get our annual flu shots.

And it's time to stop being selfish. If you're happy to feel horrific for a week and risk winding up in hospital yourself, go right ahead, but it's little babies like Seth and the two babies who contracted measles you should be concerned about.

When NSW Health issued its warning on those bubs, it was their 15th for the year. 15th!

The World Health Organisation has blamed the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement for the alarming resurgence of measles outbreaks around the world, prompting an urgent warning for the need for immediate action.

 

RELATED: Aussie flu epidemic has affected thousands

Countless measles alerts have gone out for NSW this year.
Countless measles alerts have gone out for NSW this year.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, NSW Health Director of Communicable Diseases, said cases in babies highlighted the importance of ensuring all people able to be vaccinated had received two doses of measles vaccine.

"Maintaining high rates of measles immunisation within the community reduces the risk of measles being imported into Australia by returned travellers and, through herd immunity, reduces the spread of the virus locally if it is introduced," she said.

"Herd immunity provides protection to those unable to be vaccinated such as infants and people with weakened immune systems."

Rockland County Health in New York City's northern suburbs declared a state of emergency last month over a measles outbreak that has infected more than 150 people. Picture: Seth Wenig/AP Photo
Rockland County Health in New York City's northern suburbs declared a state of emergency last month over a measles outbreak that has infected more than 150 people. Picture: Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Those with weakened immune systems include the sick and elderly, with the flu killing several already this year.

She highlighted how the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was safe and effective protection against measles. It's free for anyone born during or after 1966 who hasn't already had two doses. Even if you're unsure whether you've had two doses, it's safe to have another.

But despite warnings, many choose not to listen.

Earlier this year the pregnant wife of NRL football star Bryce Cartwright spoke out about her controversial decision not to vaccinate her children.

Shanelle Cartwright, 20, said she and her Gold Coast Titans player husband had come to their decision after lots of research, citing as a source the books of Dr Suzanne Humphries, a prominent voice in the anti-vax community.

Shanelle Cartwright shared her views on vaccination in her Instagram story.
Shanelle Cartwright shared her views on vaccination in her Instagram story.

 

Despite the backlash, Shanelle defended her stance.
Despite the backlash, Shanelle defended her stance.

Her comments sparked fierce debate, which prompted her to address critics and say she wasn't "anti-vax".

"I have many mama friends that vaccinate their kids and I RESPECT their decisions," she said.

I also respect people's decisions, but I respect science more.

There's a reason unvaccinated children are banned from enrolling in preschool in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland under the "no jab, no play" laws.

And for those families who want benefits, their children have to be fully immunised.

I'm sure our health authorities are sick of having to come up with ultimatums and issue warnings as much as I'm sick of writing about them.

Doctors are fed up with having to quash claims pushed by "irresponsible social media influencers dishing out spurious health advice".

As AMA President Dr Tony Bartone put it after the Cartwright controversy, they "pose unnecessary dangers to public health".

I think it's high time we started listening to the experts.

Continue the conversation @stephanie_bedo | stephanie.bedo@news.com.au

 

Her comments sparked fierce debate and concern from the medical community.
Her comments sparked fierce debate and concern from the medical community.


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