Prior to the late 1960’s almost everyone contracted these diseases in childhood, leading to lifelong immunity (but also much suffering from illness and complications from these diseases) – read on:
Measles is a highly infectious virus spread by respiratory droplets. It causes a high fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and a dramatic red rash. About 10% of sufferers go on to develop complications which include pneumonia and ear infections, or more rarely brain inflammation and progressive brain damage.
In many developed countries anti-vaccination campaigns have led to a significant portion of children not being vaccinated (including certain regions of Australia, such as Fremantle). These individuals (and those born between 1966 and 1982 – see below) maybe particularly susceptible to contracting the disease overseas or from others who have travelled overseas, particularly to Asia, including Bali. As a result small localised outbreaks still occur in Australia and are treated as a public health emergency to prevent further spread.
Mumps is also transmitted through respiratory secretions. Classic disease involves a fever, tiredness and dramatic swelling of the parotid glands in the face. Complications include brain inflammation which may lead to deafness, and testes inflammation which occasionally causes infertility.
Rubella is best known for the consequences for the foetus if contracted by the mother during pregnancy. If this occurs the baby will born with a mixture of intellectually disability, deafness, blindness and other birth defects. Fortunately this scenario is now extremely rare as rubella is now uncommon in Australia. Women of childbearing age are encouraged to have a blood test prior to falling pregnant to check their immunity and get a booster shot if needed levels are low.
MMR vaccine contains live modified strains of the three viruses. Large studies have conclusively shown there is no link between the vaccine and autism, or indeed any other serious disease. The vaccine should not be given during pregnancy or to those with immune suppression.
Those born between 1966 and 1982 in Australia may not have been fully immune to all three components of MMR vaccine because of lack of natural immunity AND changes in vaccine components/ childhood schedules. Full protection requires two MMR doses, so these individuals are often recommended to have blood tests for immunity and/or an MMR booster before travelling overseas.
Booster doses of live vaccines are very safe and virtually never associated with severe side effects.