Mumps, rotavirus and syphilis on the rise in 2017

Queensland is suffering through a particularly bad year for mumps, rotavirus and influenza, prompting calls for people to ensure they are vaccinated.

So far this year, there were 274 cases of mumps reported in Queensland, compared with 49 for the same period in 2016.

Mumps causes fever and swollen salivary glands, but in more severe cases can affect the testicles, pancreas or cause hearing loss. It is usually uncommon in developed countries due to the use of vaccines.

A Queensland Health spokesman said there was currently a mumps outbreak in north-west Queensland and the Gulf region, where 164 laboratory-confirmed cases were documented so far in 2017.

"The public health response has focused on Indigenous communities, where most of the cases have been reported," he said.

"The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine provides the best protection against the disease and is routinely offered at 12 and 18 months," he said.

"A free third dose of the vaccine and/or catch-up doses are being offered to people in at-risk communities who may not be fully immunised."

Mumps outbreaks can occur because of low vaccination rates, missed doses in the past, waning immunity and crowded environments.

The latest data reveals 95.03 per cent of Queensland five-year-olds are immunised for MMR.

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In August, the Townsville Public Health Unit declared an outbreak of mumps on Palm Island, ordered extra doses of the MMR vaccine and asked residents born after 1965 to check their immunisation status to ensure they had received two doses of the vaccine.

TPHU director Dr Steven Donohue said the outbreak on Palm Island followed previous mumps outbreaks in the Northern Territory, western Queensland and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Rotavirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, has been on the rise, with 1945 cases from January 1 to October 15 - almost double last year's number in the same period.

But the Queensland Health spokesman said while there was an increase in rotavirus notifications this year, there was a substantial decrease in cases since the introduction of the vaccination program in July 2007.

Before vaccines became available, rotavirus caused about half of all hospitalised cases of gastroenteritis in children less than five years of age.

This year was horrendous for the flu, with 52,856 lab-confirmed cases in Queensland until October 15, compared with 20,487 for the same period in 2016.

In August, authorities foreshadowed Queensland was on track for the "largest flu outbreak" in years, when there were 19,216 cases.

The Queensland Health spokesman said the government had launched several initiatives to manage influenza outbreaks after the worst flu season in five years, including a Flu Summit, $1 million for free flu vaccines for children under five years old and $1.3 million for rapid testing.

He said the severity of any particular flu season was not predictable, so Queensland Health developed a plan, which included campaigns to urge people to get vaccinated, promoting hand hygiene and cough etiquette and recommending people stayed home when they were sick.

Cases of sexually transmitted diseases also increased - gonorrhoea from 3075 to 4015 and infectious syphilis from 554 to 831.

The increase in syphilis was partly due to an outbreak affecting north Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia since 2011.

"Most of the people affected are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of whom are aged between 15 and 29," the Queensland Health spokesman said.

People can ask for a blood test for syphilis and in the majority of cases, it can be fully treated with a course of antibiotics.

The government has several STI and syphilis prevention initiatives, including action plans, increased testing, sexual health education for students, community screening events and the Queensland Sexual Health Strategy 2016-2021.

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Australian Medical Association Queensland chairman Shaun Rudd said the data reinforced the need to get vaccinated and practice safe sex to prevent STIs like syphilis.

"It really reinforces the fact that these diseases do exist in this century and that we need to make sure we vaccinate as high as we possibly can," Dr Rudd said.

"The more people who can get vaccinated, the less likely that these diseases will take hold if it's around, but we shouldn't be depending on herd immunity.

"Everyone should make sure that their kids get immunised - and that will prevent them from getting these serious diseases."

Many other diseases, such as different strains of hepatitis and HIV, remained relatively stable or decreased in frequency in recent years.

This story Mumps, rotavirus and syphilis on the rise in 2017 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.