Naturally, we all want to protect our kids and, thanks to medical research, safe and effective vaccines have been available for many years to protect children from serious contagious diseases, including measles and chickenpox.

If you are a parent of a child aged over 12 months, you’ll know how difficult but essential it is to take your child for what is known as the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella). How fortunate are we to be able to take our child twice for a free jab – again at 18 months – and to know they are then protected from these horrible diseases?

In 2014, the World Health Organisation said Australia had eliminated measles. Recent outbreaks have occurred (after being imported from countries where it is still prevalent) and are widely reported in the media.

The virus can spread through the air from infected people who may not know they are sick. In 2017, there were about 73 cases including 15 under-five-year-olds.

In developing countries, as many as two to 15 per cent of children who are infected with measles die.

Another highly contagious viral disease is chickenpox which is also spread through airborne droplets. In most cases, chickenpox is mild, and patients recover without medical treatment, although the illness tends to be more severe in adults A blistering skin rash is the giveaway symptom. Treatment options aim to reduce symptoms and include bed rest, calamine lotion and lukewarm baths.

Complications include scarring and cellulitis, and more seriously, pneumonia and encephalitis, bleeding disorders and occasionally, death. Some people suffer shingles later in life if they have had chickenpox. Pregnant women are most likely to be immune to the virus but if infected, there are serious risks, and a visit to an emergency department is recommended.

And the good news? A vaccine is available to protect against chickenpox. It can be given to children at 18 months of age at the same time as the MMR vaccine and is known as the MMRV (for varicella). Non-immune adolescents over 14 years of age and adults can also be vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine with two doses offered at least four weeks apart.

If you suspect your child is suffering from measles or chickenpox, call the Maternal and Child Health Line for advice on 13 22 29 or call Nurse on Call on 1300 60 60 24. The Victorian government also has a vaccine advice line on 1300 882 008.

If your child is very unwell and you suspect measles or chickenpox, a visit to your GP or Epworth emergency department may be in order. Make sure you give a call to the clinic or emergency department before arriving so the team can prepare for your arrival.

20 November 2018

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