Cases of measles confirmed in the Canterbury region

Update: 16th May 2019

Canterbury health authorities have today declared the measles outbreak that started in the region on 16 February 2019 officially over. There were a total of 38 confirmed measles cases linked to the outbreak in Canterbury, plus one additional case.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says there have now been two full incubation periods since the last case was infectious. “It’s great we can declare Canterbury’s measles outbreak officially over, but the reality is that measles is only a plane ride away,” says Dr Pink.

Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and Lakes DHBs are still dealing with their own outbreaks. Cases have also been reported in the Northland, Wellington and Waikato DHB areas.

Dr Pink says that all of these cases have come from travellers bringing the disease from overseas. “Measles is running rampant in several countries right now – the number of new cases worldwide rose by 300% during the first three months of 2019.

“Measles is an ever present threat and the only way we can stop measles from returning is to increase immunity in our community.”

Get immunised against measles if you have had one or no doses of the vaccine

Updated: 16th May 2019
Dr Pink says the MMR vaccination is free for those under 50 who haven’t had two doses. “We are still encouraging people, especially children, teenagers and young adults who have never been vaccinated to get immunised. As well as vaccinating those who have never been vaccinated, those who have had one vaccine are being encouraged to get a second.”

Measles rash on the back of an affected person.Measles is a serious, highly infectious, potentially life-threatening disease. It is spread easily through tiny droplets in a cough or sneeze. One in ten people who get measles will need treatment in hospital. Up to 30 percent will develop complications – usually children under 5 and adults over the age of 20. Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature labour and low birth-weight in babies.

Unimmunised people who come within 2 metres of an infectious person – however briefly – have a 90 percent chance of contracting measles. Unimmunised people exposed to measles first develop a respiratory type illness with dry cough, runny nose, temperature over 38.5°C and feel very unwell. The rash starts on day 4 or 5 of the illness – usually on the face and then it moves down to the chest and arms.

Some of the confirmed cases are children under 5 years. Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says this highlights the need for younger members of our community to have their scheduled vaccinations on time, and their whānau need to be fully immunised as well. “The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against measles, and should be received at 15 months and four years of age according to the Ministry of Health’s national immunisation schedule” says Dr Pink.

Babies whose mother is immune will have some protection if they are currently being breastfed. The best way to protect children who are too young to have had both MMRs or who cannot be immunised for other reasons is to ensure everyone around them has been vaccinated – if you can’t get it, you can’t pass it on.

“Immunisation is the only sure way to avoid getting measles as there is no cure,” says Dr Pink “This is why it’s vital that you protect yourself and those around you by making sure you have had two doses of the MMR vaccine, without delay.”

People are considered fully protected against measles if they:

  • have received two doses of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine; or
  • were born before 1969.

“Those aged between 29 and 50 will only have had one measles vaccination and are not considered immune.” says Dr Pink.

People born overseas who are unsure which vaccinations they might have had, should contact their general practice team for advice. The measles vaccine and the appointment to have it is free to all those who are eligible for funded healthcare in New Zealand.

For more information on measles please go to www.immune.org.nz

What you need to know if you think you may have measles

Canterbury DHB Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink advises that people are infectious from five days before the onset of the rash until five days after the rash appears.

People should stay in isolation from the time that they may have become infected until five days after the rash first appears. “This means staying home from school or work and having no contact with unimmunised people. Others in your household who are unimmunised also need to stay in isolation too.”

Anyone who thinks they have been exposed to measles or are exhibiting symptoms should not go to the Emergency Department, after hours’ clinic or their general practice. Instead call your GP any time 24/7 for free health advice – to limit further exposure to other people. A nurse will answer a call to your general practice team after hours and will advise you on what to do and where to go if you need to be seen.

Key information about measles including signs and symptoms

  • Measles is a highly infectious viral illness spread by contact with respiratory secretions through coughing and sneezing.
  • Symptoms of measles include:
    • A respiratory type of illness with dry cough, runny nose, and headache;
    • Temperature over 38.5ºC and feeling very unwell; and
    • A red blotchy rash starts on day 4 or 5 of the illness usually on the face and moves to the chest and arms.
  • People are infectious from five days before the onset of the rash to five days after the rash starts.
  • Infected persons should stay in isolation – staying home from school or work – during this time.
  • The best protection from measles is to have two MMR vaccinations. MMR is available from your family practice and is free to eligible persons.
  • People are considered immune if they have received two doses of MMR vaccine, have had a measles illness previously, or were born before 1969.
  • Anyone believing they have been exposed to measles or exhibiting symptoms should not go to the Emergency Department, after hours’ clinic or general practitioner. Instead call your GP any time 24/7 for free health advice.

Source: Canterbury District Health Board media releases (26th February to 16th May 2019).

Published on Tuesday, February 26th, 2019, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 20/05/2019

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