Wow! Measles outbreaks eliminated in Australia!

By Phil Plait | February 15, 2009 11:13 pm

This is incredible: Australia has eliminated the risk of large measles outbreaks for the next few years. At least, this is the prediction based on past cases, and by lowering the age for children to get the second inoculation from four years old to 18 months.

In 2005 and 2007, Australia had less than one case per million people. 2006 had an uptick with 6 cases per million, but half those cases are claimed to be attributed to an "outbreak linked to the tour of a foreign spiritual group".

Spiritual group, eh? Hmmm. Antivaxxers? Bet on it.

So it’s predicted that large outbreaks will be eliminated. They’ll have fewer than 100 cases per year across the continent, and those will be due to unvaccinated foreigners, who love to ruin everyone’s day. The key here is to maintain the number of people getting the second shot, so that herd immunity rules the day and outbreaks are minimized or eliminated.

Australians continue to amaze me. They do seem to be infected with our own nuttiness — creationism is getting a toehold there, for example, and homeopathy is a plague — but in general they seem to be a pragmatic and bonzer group of blokes.

Australia: good on ya!

Tip o’ the syringe to Dr. Joe Albietz.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (44)

  1. Tim G

    Get ’em vax’d!

  2. Oblivious

    Regarding the spiritual group:

    From the article:
    Followers of a world-renowned Hindu spiritual leader famous for her “divine hugs” have been blamed for a measles epidemic across Australia.

    A near quadrupling in the number of measles cases has been linked by health authorities to the thousands of Australians who flocked to see Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, known as Amma, on her national tour last month.

    The official number of cases has soared to 42, compared to a total of 11 last year.

  3. LukeL

    Now they need a sound foresting policy to control wild fires.

  4. Phil, Australia has enough natural ways to kill you without us needing measles too.

  5. Australia only seems sane because ppl like Ken Ham run over seas and build things like the Creation Museum… so thank you for taking him off our hands ūüėõ

    There was a recent case where 2 parents ran away with their child to avoid vaccinations, but on the whole we are keeping the barbarians out.

  6. LukeL,
    There’s going to be a lot of discussions and inquiries over the next few months into the fires last weekend. We do know though that we had the worst conditions ever for bushfires last saturday and nothing burns like eucalyptus.

  7. Jarrad T

    Hooray! This is good news after the wildfires. Also, This may be the sort of news that is overlooked in most mainstream publications.

    Hopefully everyone is doing well after the fires. My band just got back from a tour and we drove past affected areas. Very sad :(

  8. Sam P

    I like to think that because .AU is so young a country, that we have not yet forgotten the problems our forebears faced in setting the whole place up. Having a few generations firmly rooted in reality, (eg, where if you’re too far away on your own and bitten by a snake you will die) gives birth to a few more generations of people that can think in a straight line.

    Of course, this is wearing off. It sucks.

  9. I know of at least one other outbreak of disease because of un-vaccinated immigrant Australians. A close relative works for a large government organisation where he and dozens of his co-workers had to be screened for TB because a couple of colleagues had come down with TB or TB like symptoms. This was about a year ago and all the employees were asked/warned to keep the outbreak quiet.

  10. MadScientist

    According to PZ Meyers, it was a Hindu spiritualist spreading the plague. I don’t know if he meant the spiritualist was Hindu or if the plague carrier practiced a Hindu version of spiritualism.

    Now for some bad news: I just saw a looong ad on the TV for magnetic mattresses – magnetic pillow, blah blah, and guess what? The thing that made the ad so long were all the testimonials to the efficacy of the magnetic treatments. Yes! Testimonials! That always reminds me of something from Webber’s “Cats”, although I don’t know if the words are attributable to Webber or to TS Eliot in “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”: “at least we all heard that somebody heard, which is incontestable proof!” Or something from Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”: “What I tell you three times must be true!”

    Such disappointing news, and not too long after reading about a lady who got the Fair Trade Commission to write to some magnet people to tell them stop advertising or else produce proof of efficacy.

    Someone ought to resurrect that ancient AMA campaign that had a testimonial printed on one page and the corresponding death certificate printed on the facing page.

  11. MadScientist


    If you’ve got a vaccine for TB, let the world know; medics around the world would just love to have a vaccine for TB. If you don’t have a vaccine for TB, then stop spreading uneducated nonsense about unvaccinated immigrants spreading the disease.

  12. MadScientist


    Absolutely. #1 cause of death and destruction with fires is that people for whatever bizarre reason are now hesitant to beat back nature. Get those bulldozers rolling and knock down those trees! I was absolutely astounded by the ignorance displayed by alleged senior firefighters on the local news – they were spouting some nonsense about how they can’t “control the fires anymore”. Utter rubbish – they never *could* control the fires *ever*. So much for that ray of hope when some genuine firefighters appeared before this current disaster and openly said that they can do next to nothing when faced with *any* forest fire. Until people accept the reality that forest fires can’t be controlled, they’ll never do anything significant to minimize damage and loss of life. However, over 30 years of news footage has only bolstered the myth that forest fires can be controlled.

  13. Grenangle

    Nice of you shout out for the Aussie ‘bloke’ but for the sake of the FSM give the “Sheilas’ a yell or no one will get a root.

  14. It’s spelt “bonza”.. surprised no-one’s picked up on that yet.

  15. Mark Hansen

    Grrrrr!! Homeopathy; a pox on homeopathy. And iridology too. My wife needed a BiPAP machine due to breathing difficulties at night. Our health fund covers part of the cost of a CPAP machine but not a BiPAP machine, despite both machines being lifesavers. They will, however, happily pay for visits to iridologists and homeopathists despite both being as useful as t**s on a bull.

    Rant over. I just see red whenever iridology or homeopathy is mentioned.

  16. Mark Hansen

    Actually, Anita, you can spell it both ways. That’s the great thing about slang, the spelling rules are fairly flexible.

  17. @MadScientist
    Maybe you should read this then…

    Australia has a historically low incidence of TB. Most new outbreaks are related to foreign migrants.

  18. Unlike America, Australia seems to revel in its criminal past. We Americans act as if we are God’s Gift. If we could just get over ourselves and pay attention to science, we would be much better off.


    Perhaps the TB vaccine is a reference to BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin).

  19. Sarah

    Australia is the best, even with the numerous animals that could kill you. Surprisingly though, it isn’t overly common to see them and they tend to leave you alone anyway if you don’t annoy them.

    It is good news about the vaccinations, but I haven’t heard of creationism becoming major here, in (public) schools its pretty much evolution the entire way. I can’t say much about the Christian or private schools though.

    P.S. Phil, no one (or at least only a very few people) uses the word “bonzer”. Or “streuth” or any other “Aussie slang” words. I actually think it’s the English that tends to use them more then we do.

  20. I remember when I was in OZ they seemed to have a wonderfully practical, no-nonsense approach to healthcare. My favourite was the TV ads about skin cancer, telling you how you could end up getting skin grafted from your rear end onto your face if you weren’t careful. The slogan was something like “Don’t want to wear your arse on your face? Use sunblock”. Genius.

  21. MadScientist


    BCG is so ineffective that in the USA it is not generally recommended and it is not on the vaccination schedule. Clinical trials over the years have reported anywhere from 0% to 80% protection rate (yes – 0% – that does mean absolutely useless). Preventing the spread of TB is fairly trivial and it is the availability of antibiotics along with other measures, and *not* of BCG which has knocked down the TB rate in the USA. So it’s more of education than anything; little wonder the disease is still widespread in parts of the world where education and hygiene are poor.

    You can go get your BCG shots and then visit a region where TB is rampant and you’re pretty much flipping a coin to determine of you get it or not. Moreover, some people suggest that BCG is becoming increasingly ineffective. If a migrant has TB it has nothing to do with having received a vaccine. As I said, anyone who did receive a vaccine can go into infected areas and they’re fooling themselves if they believe they have an immunity because there is a far greater chance that they are not immune than they have developed an immunity from BCG.

    The link you provide states that the WHO recommends one dose. Why only one dose? Well, aside from its inefficacy (especially when compared with the efficacy of other vaccines), further doses do *not* confer any further immune response. It’s somewhat peculiar really; after the estimated 10-15 years for which BCG *might* provide you some protection, a further dose is shown in clinical trials to provide no further protection! So, even if you did receive BCG as a child, if you’re in your late teens don’t think you have any increased immune response at all to the disease.

    So, you’re being unfair blaming the disease on the immigrants. Vaccine or not, they may be infected. The same goes for any Australian who happens to pass through areas with high TB infection rates. The Australian government does require any visitors from high risk areas to undergo a chest X-ray to check for TB in the lungs, but even a person with a lung infection will not necessarily be caught with an X-ray; it depends on the stage of the disease. Unfortunately even the tuberculin skin test is a bit of voodoo, so the sad story is, regardless of what the government does and regardless of BCG innoculation, people may still be occasionally exposed to TB.

    Don’t trust medical websites in Australia, they’re rather backward in many instances. I’d suggest making use of information from the US Centers for Disease Control websites instead:

  22. Kimpatsu

    @Cannonball Jones:
    Oz also ran an anti-drink-driving campaign with the slogan “Drink, drive, bloody idiot!”
    Tell it like it is!

  23. Naomi

    “but in general they seem to be a pragmatic and bonzer group of blokes.”

    Oi! Pragmatic and bonzer mob of sheilas, too!

  24. Check out the Grim Reaper Aids commercial from 1987…

  25. @MadScientist,

    I said because of un-vaccinated immigrant Australians where I probably should have said because of infected immigrant Australians.

    So there is a vaccine. I thought so. I had it when I was about 13. It leaves a scar.

    Thanks for the CDC link. Lots of great info there.
    The CDC says And, racial and ethnic minority populations and foreign-born individuals continue to account for a large number of TB cases in the United States.
    This is from the CDC report for 2006
    In 2006, 57% of TB cases occurred in
    foreign-born persons. Foreign-born persons accounted for the majority of TB cases in the
    United States for the sixth consecutive year. Moreover, the case rate among foreign-born
    persons was more than nine times higher than among U.S.-born persons”.

    From what I’ve been reading the situation in the US isn’t far removed from Australian experience. True, holiday makers can contract TB overseas and bring it back and infect other people but from what I’ve been reading and from the anecdotal evidence of the outbreak I mentioned a majority of cases are from migrants in Oz.

    As far as the efficacy of the BCG vaccine goes the CDC says
    “In summary, the recently conducted meta-analyses of BCG protective efficacy have confirmed that the vaccine efficacy for preventing serious forms of TB in children is high (i.e., >80%)”.
    The CDC also says (in the same article)
    “BCG vaccination contributes to the prevention and control of TB in limited situations when other strategies are inadequate”.

  26. That’s only because the dingoes keep eating their babies.

  27. Muzz

    We actually throw kids to the dingoes fairly regularly. Like the Spartans did with their young. The figures on dingoes eaten by babies is significant (although not as significant as dingoes beaten to death by snakes)

  28. BCG was mandatory in my school when I grew up (Norway, 1980-1990s). But when I didn’t show up for my scheduled shoulder scarification session, the school nurse just let it go. I had expected to be called in later, but she didn’t consider it important at all. It’s all starting to make sense now.

  29. Sunny Ng

    Actually Phil, I think that spiritual group was this hugging Amma:


  30. gopher65

    Tim Bennett: is it true that the only things in Australia that aren’t poisonous are “some of the sheep”?

  31. Australia: good on ya!

    You so need an “Australia: Not Doomed” picture.

  32. amphiox

    Not only does the BCG vaccine not provide effective immunity to TB, it has a tendency to screw up the TB screening test, rendering false positives people who have had the vaccine, making early detection and treatment for these people all that more difficult.

    So, in short, it is worse than useless.

  33. nothing burns like eucalyptus.

    Does that make everything smell like Halls cough drops? ūüėÄ

  34. Murdats

    I believe the bush fires are harder to prevent in the area they are due to the terrain causing backburning to be difficult

    also I believe that while these things are on the rise in australia I think (and hope) that once they reach a certain concentration where people actually start noticing they are mocked back into obscurity, they survive on the fringes and grow on the fringes but we seem fairly resilient to letting them into our culture.

    of course some of these may get in and spread like wildfire but I dearly hope not.

  35. RL

    But wait…I read in an earlier blog on this site that Measles was on the rise…

  36. John Keller

    RL measles is on the rise, just not in Australia.

    In case anyone is wondering, here is a site by CDC listing the adult schedual for vaccinations.

  37. RL: I believe that earlier blog entry referred to Measles in the United States. While I’m not up on my geography, I’m pretty sure Australia is located somewhere off the coast of the U.S.

  38. RL

    ncc1701: I was referring to the blog entry with the headline that was titled “Measels are on the rise in Australia and Switzerland, too.” Thanks for the geography lesson, anyway.

  39. LukeL

    To add, in the past forests were thinned out all the time because of wildfires and no one to put them out. Now we do such a good job of stopping little fires and disallow clear cutting that we have super dense forests with decades of dead dry underbrush. One spark and millions of acres can go up.

  40. CJA

    Yep – no one ever says ‘Bonza’ here. We do say ‘Yep’ though, and ‘Nuh’.
    The whole issue of bushfire management is pretty complex. But, if you want a tragically funny story, apparently there’s a guy who cut down all the trees around his house (I think you’re only allowed to take out 4/year). His council fined him $30,000, he took it to court, lost and it all ended up costing him $96,000 just for chopping down the trees around his house. It’s the only one still standing in his area.

  41. Sundance

    Phil, I’m curious about where you get the info suggesting creationism is on the rise in Oz. There has certainly been a shift away from traditional churches to the evangelical “happy-clappy” McChurches run by multi-zillionaires, but there’s also a pretty strong public view that religion has no place dictating what gets into the school curriculum. I remember a few years back our (former) conservative government started making “Let’s teach intelligent design in schools, they’re doing it in the US”-type noises, and there was such an immediate negative response from both the academic community and the general public that the whole idea was dropped almost immediately.

  42. Joanne Mullen

    It’s clear that a lot of those fires were started deliberately, it wasn’t an act of nature so much as mass murder. Such deliberate firesetting is hardly new though, the aborigines often hunted by torching vast swathes of forest and picking through the charred carcasses afterwards. That’s why Australian’s megafauna were destroyed. So much for living in harmony with nature.

    Don’t assume that Australia is a bastion of clear thinking. I live in a rich suburb of Sydney and there are more ‘alternative’ therapy shops and adverts here than Indian Mynah birds, and there are a lot of those. Australia is actually the most suburban population on earth, almost everyone lives on the coast, mostly in one of the big conurbations, they like to think of themselves as frontiersmen in their adverts, but it’s just not true. It’s no hotbed of scientific curiosity either. The combined science budget for the three main commercial TV stations is precisely zero.

    As for creationism, it strikes me that those surveys showing how ‘stupid’ Americans are are seldom replicated for other countries, mainly because it doesn’t play to the usual lazy media stereotypes. If you asked a representative sample of Australians, or anyone else, to place Iran on a map, account for the development of life on Earth or explain what an eclipse is, you’d probably get a shockingly bad result. There would be no easy ‘Americans are stupid’ headline in it though, so it doesn’t happen.

  43. Creationism is definitely on the rise here in Oz, but they have learned a lesson from the court debacles in the US and aren’t pushing it in the public sphere. I regularly visit a lot of schools through my business (science communication) and I’m seeing more and more straightforward creationism taught as science in the private schools.

    Unfortunately, screwing with kids’ minds and teaching them to believe in fairy tales seems to be a parental ‘right’.

  44. Samuel Jenkins

    This is sheer nonsense, blaming tourists for measles- did they bring you some sort of plague? You fail to report the truth about vaccine damages to the body’s own immune system, heck in north america- they have measle parties!!! Your people down under are Under the Influence of Drug Companies Peddling Dangerous Vaccines.
    Perhaps you think it is healthier to have a brain damaged kid?


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar