Cases of measles confirmed in the Canterbury region

Update: 21st March 2019

The number of measles cases in Canterbury has risen to 34, with a further five cases under investigation.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says measles continues to spread in Canterbury.

“We’ve had another four confirmed cases this week and we’re concerned that numbers are tracking upwards,” says Dr Pink.

Dr Pink says Canterbury’s young people are being hit hardest by measles. “Twenty-two of our 34 cases have occurred in people aged 28 and younger. This group is particularly susceptible to measles, and we need to increase vaccination uptake amongst this group if we’re to stop the spread of measles.”

GP teams are focusing on those who need the vaccine most – people aged between 12 months and 28 years who have never been immunised.

Update: 19th March 2019

The number of confirmed measles cases in Canterbury now stands at 30, with one under investigation.

Dr Pink says there remains a risk of measles spreading when large groups congregate together. “You should stay away from large gatherings if you were born after 1969 and feel unwell with measles-like symptoms, or have never been vaccinated against measles – as you will be at risk.”

Update: 14th March 2019

The number of measles cases in Canterbury remains at 28, with 12 under investigation. Seven cases have been hospitalised so far and two of these seven have been treated in ICU.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says it is pleasing measles numbers haven’t increased over the past 24 hours.

“Measles is incredibly infectious and numbers can easily skyrocket. This can be put down to the great response of Cantabrians and our health professionals, and our high levels of community immunity. But we can’t be complacent. Measles is a very serious illness and the only way to prevent its spread is immunisation.”

“We have enough vaccines to immunise those who need it most – people aged between 12 months and 28 years who have never been immunised” says Dr Pink. Over time the vaccine will be made available to other priority groups.

“Those who are susceptible to measles need to be aware that it is circulating in our community. Unvaccinated people can easily catch measles if they are in close contact with infectious people, so staying away from large groups helps protect yourself and others” says Dr Pink.

Dr Pink has thanked the Canterbury community for their response to the outbreak. “People are taking this issue extremely seriously. I’d like to thank the increasing number of people who are staying isolated after being potentially exposed.”

Get immunised against measles if you have never had any doses of the vaccine

Updated: 14th March 2018
General practice teams have been asked to prioritise the following groups for MMR immunisation:

  1. Children 12 months to 13 years who have never received any doses of MMR.
  2. Young adults (from 14 to 28 years) who have never received any doses of MMR.
  3. The four-year-old MMR can be brought forward to no sooner than four weeks after the previous MMR.

“The immediate focus is children between the ages of 12 months and 13 years who have never been immunised,” says Dr Pink. “GP teams are also focused on providing the vaccine to young adults aged 14 years to 28 years who have never been immunised.”

“Logistically general practice simply can’t vaccinate everyone at once. We need to take a systematic approach that targets those most in need. We’re focusing on unimmunised children and young adults first up.”

Access will be expanded over time to more groups, including adults aged 29 to 50 years who may only have received one dose of a measles vaccine.

“We know that one dose of the MMR vaccine including measles protects 95 percent of people against developing measles. The risk of getting measles increases for those not immunised as the numbers of confirmed cases climb” Dr Pink says.

Cases of measles have been confirmed in Canterbury. None are thought to have been fully immunised against measles.

Investigations by Community and Public Health are ongoing, including contact tracing in relation to new cases and prophylactic treatment and/or isolation for anyone thought to have been exposed, but not fully immune.

Unimmunised people who come within 2 metres of an infectious person – however briefly – have a 90 percent chance of contracting measles.

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 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.

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 19th March 2019).

Published on Tuesday, February 26th, 2019, under News
Page last updated: 21/03/2019

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