Measles has been confirmed in an unimmunised child in Northland this week. The child had been in contact with children from the Waikato, where there has been a large measles outbreak with cases still being reported.
Northland DHB medical officer of health Dr Clair Mills says a family with confirmed measles from the Waikato – despite having been asked to self-isolate – recently visited people living in Northland.
“Measles is highly-infectious and if children are not immunised there is a very high chance they will get sick if exposed to someone with measles.”
Dr Mills advises Northlanders to ensure their families are protected from measles.
“We are following up over 120 children and adults who were in contact with this case, forty per cent of whom are not fully immunised. Sadly this is to be expected, given very low immunisation coverage in much of Northland over the last 30 years.”
This year, 265 confirmed measles cases have been reported from the Auckland region, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Hawkes Bay, Taranaki and Wellington, with over 100 cases from the recent outbreak in a high school in Hamilton.
Measles is spread by tiny droplets in the air and is very infectious, easily spreading to those nearby. The first symptoms (fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes) can be mistaken for a cold, with the rash (appearing on the face and neck and spreading over the body) three to five days later.
“Measles can be a very serious illness, with one in three sufferers experiencing complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis or diarrhoea,” says Dr Mills.
“While one in 10, on average, requires hospitalisation, admission rates in the Hamilton outbreak have been higher.”
She reiterates that immunisation is the best protection from this potentially serious disease.
“This is an avoidable disease where there is an effective vaccine. Immunisation protects, not only the individual, but also stops the spread of this disease within our communities.
“Please double-check that your child is not at risk and catch up on any missed vaccinations. Vaccination is a much better option than having a very sick child at home for a couple of weeks.”
Dr Mills recommends that the first MMR be given at 12 months while measles is present in the community. A second MMR can be given a month later, to ensure maximal protection.
Unimmunised people who have had contact with a person with measles, will normally be advised to stay at home and away from all public places, school or work for 14 days after their contact.
“Anyone born before 1969 or who has received two doses of MMR can reasonably assume they are already immune.”
Dr Mills says anyone displaying the symptoms of measles stated above should immediately telephone their doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice.
What is measles?
- Measles is a highly-infectious viral disease that can be serious.
- It is spread from person to person through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing. Just being in the same room as someone with measles can lead to infection if you are not immune.
Who is at risk of measles infection?
People are at risk of getting measles if they are not immune to measles. People who are regarded as not immune to measles are:
- People younger than 45 years old (born after January 1 1969) who have not had two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine
- Infants under the age of 15 months who have not received their first routine dose of MMR vaccine. They are susceptible and rely on everyone else to be immune so that measles does not spread to them.
- Children over four years old who have not received their second dose of MMR.
What should you do?
- Ensure you are up-to-date with your immunisations.
- If you are not immune it is important to be aware of the symptoms of measles. The early symptoms of measles are fever, runny nose, sore red eyes and cough.
- After three-five days a red, blotchy rash appears on the face and head and then spreads down the body.
If you develop symptoms of measles:
- Stay at home and away from public places (such as sports events, gatherings, parties, school, work, child care, shopping centres, public transport and so on).
- See your doctor as soon as possible so a diagnosis can be confirmed. However, phone the surgery ahead to alert them of your symptoms and to allow them to make arrangements to assess you safely and without infecting other people.
- If you are unable to visit your GP, phone Healthline on 0800 611 116.
Dr Clair Mills is available for an interview on 021461039.
For further information, please contact:
Liz Inch, Communications Manager
Northland District Health Board