When Chiefs doctor Kevin Bell heard how a 23-year-old suffered recently when she caught measles at a hip-hop festival in Australia it made him wonder how well protected his Chiefs rugby players were.
The woman needed two bouts of hospital treatment to pump fluids into her body; she vomited up her pain relief medication, could not eat and had an extremely high temperature.
Almost 60 Aucklanders have had measles this year prompting health professionals to urge Kiwis to “get vaccinated”.
Dr Bell knows how a bout of measles could affect the Chiefs and their performance on the playing field and he does not want to risk any of his players or their families. Later today (Friday 7 March) some Chiefs players, staff and families will receive a measles vaccination from Waikato District Health Board (DHB) health professionals.
“Measles can be life threatening: about 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment. The Chiefs are about to head overseas to Australia and South Africa and so it was important for us to check before we travelled away, how many of our players needed the measles vaccine,” said Dr Bell.
“There have been lots of cases of people bringing measles into New Zealand over the last three months. We don’t want to be the ones who do that to another country.”
Measles is a very serious disease that causes fever, cough, sore eyes and a rash. It is highly infectious.
The only way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated with two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Many teenagers and young adults have not had two doses of measles vaccine and aren’t protected against measles. Young children are usually vaccinated at 15 months and 4 years of age.
Public health expert Waikato DHB’s medical officer of health Dr Anita Bell says New Zealand could have eradicated measles in the country now if not for incorrect research 16 years ago. 1
“The only ones who should be worried by the latest measles outbreaks are those who have not been vaccinated. If you don’t know whether you were vaccinated, contact your GP, they will be able to tell you.
“If you are an adult and you suspect you may have only had one vaccine, then get two separate vaccines about a month apart.”
Anyone who suspects they may have measles, should call their GP, or Healthline on 0800 611 116, as soon as possible.
“It is important to call before visiting a GP surgery or emergency department so that staff can take steps to prevent measles being spread to people in the waiting room,” said Dr Anita Bell.
“Please make sure that children are up to date with childhood immunisations. Those born before 1969 are thought to be immune,” she said.
The Chiefs and some of their partners and children will also have their annual flu vaccination today.
The immunisations are part of the Chiefs partnership with the Waikato DHB and Waikids (the Waikato DHB youth and children services).
A record 23,330 more Waikato residents were vaccinated against influenza last year, compared to the same period in 2012.
More than 95,000 Waikato people were vaccinated, up from 71,810.
“The Chiefs management, staff and players really got behind the Waikato’s influenza campaign and allowed us to film, photograph and write about the boys receiving their immunisations, which inevitably encourages others to have their’s done,” said Waikato DHB media and communications director Mary Anne Gill.
“Whether they think so or not, these guys are role models in our community and we know that having their involvement in relaying important health messages works, so we are really appreciative of the time and leadership they are taking in this year’s campaign against measles and influenza,” she said.
“Keeping our squad healthy is essential to our success,” said Dr Kevin Bell.
“The immunisations, along with good hand hygiene certainly helped us reduce the incidents of illness amongst the players.”
1 Many academics say Canadian Andrew Wakefield is responsible for the increased cases of measles around the world due to his now discredited research published in 1998.
Where his widely dismissed claims got traction – that the combined triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella increased the risk of autism – outbreaks of the preventable disease followed, including in New Zealand.
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