Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has recently warned of the importance of getting vaccinated against polio and measles if you’re going overseas.
That’s because these two diseases are present in many countries popular with Australian visitors.
In this article, we’re going to explain the importance of getting your measles and polio vaccine if you’re travelling. We’ll also look at other travel vaccinations and things you can do to protect yourself.
Why do I need measles and polio vaccinations?
Measles is commonly found in many countries that Australians love to visit. These include:
There are also high levels of measles infections in some countries in Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Niger.
There have been outbreaks in North and South America, Europe and the UK, too.
And because measles vaccination rates have also dropped in some of these countries, it can make the spread of disease more likely.
So if you travel to a destination with high measles infection rates and you are not fully immunised, you may get sick and spread the disease to other people.
Polio is regularly found in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and other countries popular with Aussie tourists have recently experienced outbreaks, including Indonesia and the UK.
It’s also found in many countries in Africa.
If you’re not fully immunised against polio when visiting these places, you run the risk of infection and passing on the disease.
More about measles
Measles is a highly infectious disease and is caused by a virus. Complications can be life-changing, and measles may even cause death.
Thankfully, measles in Australia is rare as a vaccination programme has been in place for several decades now. But outbreaks can still occur when infected people return from abroad.
Measles symptoms include:
- Fever (high temperature)
- Severe cough
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Runny nose
- White spots in the mouth
- A rash that starts at the head and spreads over the body
There is no special treatment for measles, although mild to moderate symptoms can be dealt with by rest, drinking plenty of fluids and managing any fever.
Hospital treatment may be needed if symptoms are severe or there are complications.
The best way to prevent measles is to get vaccinated.
In Australia, children are offered the first dose of measles vaccine at 12 months and the second dose at 18 months.
It is given together with the vaccines for mumps and rubella (the MMR vaccine) or with mumps, rubella and varicella (the MMRV vaccine).
If you don’t think you got the measles vaccination when you were a child, speak to your doctor before travelling.
More about polio
Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is another highly infectious viral infection. It can cause paralysis and death.
Polio has been eradicated from most countries in the world, including Australia. But to stop it coming back, it’s important that people should still get their vaccination.
Many people infected with the polio virus don’t experience any symptoms or illness. Some people have symptoms similar to flu, including:
- Sore throat
- Stiffness or pain in the arms, legs, back or neck
- Tender or weak muscles
Also, a number of people with polio develop severe muscle weakness, which can affect the diaphragm, a muscle that helps you breathe.
Treatment for polio includes pain relief, physiotherapy and intensive care in hospital, which can include help with breathing.
In Australia, children are offered a series of polio vaccinations. These are given at 2, 4 and 6 months, then at 4 years.
Adults who travel to countries where polio is present will need a booster every 10 years.
What other precautions should I take if I’m travelling?
Wherever you are travelling to, you should take some common sense precautions. These include:
- Learning about the health risks in your destination
- Getting any travel vaccinations recommended by your doctor
- Practising good hygiene while you are travelling, including washing your hands with soap and water frequently and using hand sanitiser in between washing
- Wearing a face mask in crowded places like on public transport
- Packing basic first aid items like a thermometer and cooling products
- Using insect repellent and taking other precautions if you are going to a place where insect-borne diseases like malaria are common
- Avoiding tap water, ice cubes and raw and undercooked food to reduce the risk of food poisoning and food-borne diseases
The Smartraveller website can tell you more about all aspects of preparing for your trip. It includes information about travel vaccinations and advice tailored to individual destinations.
Let us help you stay safe on your travels
While the risk of getting measles or polio is rare, it is still real if you haven’t been vaccinated. So make sure you are up-to-date with your vaccinations before you head abroad.
You should also take the simple steps we’ve outlined here to help protect you from other diseases.
Know that FeverMates can help you stay safe while you travel. Browse our range of health and wellbeing products while you’re planning your trip and stock up on essential items like face masks, hand sanitiser and more.
Being prepared will give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy your trip to the max!