Health warning for staff

Published: Monday 7th September 2015

health check 

Staff are advised of a rise in the incidence of some infectious diseases within Australia in recent months.  You are encouraged to take a proactive approach to staying well by being aware of the precautions you can take to safeguard yourself and others. 

Measles

During August, an outbreak of measles occurred amongst eight students attending the University of Queensland in Brisbane.  Queensland Health has warned there is a risk that the outbreak may spread across Brisbane as measles is highly infectious, and the students visited a number of public places while they were ill.

Symptoms: Measles begins with fever, tiredness, cough, runny nose and/or red inflamed eyes which usually become more severe over three days. There may be small white spots on a red base in the mouth on the inside of the cheek (Koplik’s spots).  This is then followed by a blotchy, dark red rash usually beginning at the hairline. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, the rash spreads over the entire body, during which time the person generally feels very unwell.

How it is spread: Measles is spread via small infectious droplets of respiratory secretions which can stay suspended in the air for at least 30 minutes after the person with measles has left the room or area.  As the onset of symptoms does not occur until 7 to 18 days after contact with the infection, people may have unknowingly come into contact with the virus through social interactions.

Precautions: If you experience any of the symptoms of measles, please visit your General Practitioner (GP) and if you are diagnosed with measles, please notify your nominated supervisor. 

As a proactive measure, Queensland Health is providing free measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccines to GPs in the Brisbane area for people who do not have immunity. Please take advantage of this service and if you are unsure about your immunity, you are also encouraged to visit your GP to receive the vaccination (MMR).  The vaccine is free, however, you will still be required to pay for the GP’s consultation.

You are considered to have immunity to measles if you were born before 1 January 1966, or have had two documented doses of a measles-containing vaccine or a blood test that confirms immunity, or if you have had the measles disease.  Further information.

Influenza

Record numbers of Australians have been diagnosed with influenza this year.  There has also been a surge in cases of Influenza B in recent months, a virulent strain of the flu which can be particularly debilitating for children and the elderly.  See a graph of reported cases by state.  In Brisbane, thousands of people have been diagnosed with influenza during August alone.  In Victoria, influenza season is expected to peak in September.

Symptoms: People with influenza commonly experience fever and chills, a cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle aches, joint pains, headaches and fatigue.  They may also experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults).

How it is spread: Influenza viruses are mainly spread by droplets made when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  Influenza can also be spread through touching surfaces where infected droplets have landed. People with influenza can be infectious from the day before their symptoms start.  Adults are most infectious in the first 3-5 days of their illness, while children remain infectious for 7-10 days.

Precautions: If you experience these symptoms, please visit your GP.  Cover your face when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a rubbish bin.  Wash your hands thoroughly and often.  Wash hands for at least 10 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.  Stay at home until you're well. Wait at least 24 hours after your fever resolves so you that you are unlikely to infect other people.

A seasonal influenza vaccine is available, but a new vaccine needs to be given each year because influenza viruses change constantly. A new influenza vaccine is prepared each year to best match the strains predicted for the coming influenza season. You can consult your GP to arrange a vaccination. ACU also offers free influenza vaccinations for staff in March/April each year.  People who are at higher risk of complications from influenza infection are particularly encouraged to consider getting an annual vaccination.  Further information.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough is a serious infection that usually causes a long coughing illness.  In babies, the infection can be life threatening.   A student attending ACU North Sydney Campus was recently diagnosed with whooping cough.  In addition, rates of whooping cough within the Canberra region have more than doubled this year with hundreds of cases confirmed. 

Symptoms: Whooping cough usually starts with a runny nose, followed by a cough that is often worse at night.  Coughing bouts may be followed by gagging , vomiting or gasping for air.  Whooping cough can cause a very severe illness in young children particularly those aged under 6 months.

How it is spread: An infectious person coughs bacteria into the air which can be inhaled by people nearby.  If they are not treated early, people with whooping cough are infectious in the first three weeks of their illness.  

Precautions: If you experience these symptoms, please visit your GP.  People who are diagnosed with whooping cough need to stay away from the University until they have taken 5 days of a special antibiotic.   If you are diagnosed with whooping cough, you should advise your nominated supervisor. 

If you have not been immunised against whooping cough, consider visiting your GP to receive a vaccination.  Be aware that whooping cough can occur in people previously vaccinated, and a booster shot is required every 10 years for immunity to remain effective.  Further information.

Asthma and allergies

As the change of seasons brings warmer weather and higher pollen counts, and air pollution from bushfire smoke, this may increase the risk of asthma and allergies for people who are susceptible. Staff who are vulnerable to these conditions are reminded to ensure they carry their medication with them and have sufficient doses of the reliever medication.  

Symptoms of an asthma attack include
•    Difficulty breathing
•    Difficulty speaking a  full sentence in one breath
•    A cough or a wheeze 
•    Tugging in of the skin between the ribs or at base of neck
•    Confusion/exhaustion
•    Turning blue

Asthma can be life-threatening if not treated effectively and quickly.  You are encouraged to review the four steps of Asthma First Aid so you may be able to help someone in the event of an asthma attack. 

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