The number of confirmed cases of measles in Canterbury now stands at fifteen and is likely to rise further over the coming days and weeks. It can now be assumed that measles is circulating widely in our community.
Unimmunised people who come within two metres of an infectious person, however briefly, have a 90% chance of contracting measles.
Measles is a serious, highly infectious, potentially life-threatening disease. One in ten people who get measles will need treatment in hospital. Up to 30 percent will develop complications – usually children under five 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 four - five of the illness usually on the face, then moves down to the chest and arms. People are considered infectious from 5 days before, until 5 days after the rash first appears.
The best protection is for people born after 1969 to have had two MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations.
Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ramon Pink says that people in their late teens and early 20s are considered at risk because a higher than usual proportion of that age group didn’t have their scheduled MMR vaccinations, and because they are highly social and highly mobile.
“Anyone in this age band who isn’t certain they have had both MMRs should contact their General Practice team to arrange for an MMR vaccination – the vaccination and the appointment to have it is free,” he says.
General practice teams have been asked to prioritise the following groups for MMR immunisation:
People who are not up-to-date according to the schedule for their age group
Children and young adults (age range 5 years to 28 years) who are either not immunised or who have only received one MMR dose to date.
Children 12 months to 5 years who have never received any doses of MMR.
The four-year-old MMR can be brought forward to no sooner than four weeks after the previous MMR.
Adults aged 29 to 50 (this group only received one dose of measles vaccine)
Babies whose mother is immune will have some protection if they are currently being breastfed. For children who are too young to have had both MMRs or who cannot be immunised for other reasons, the best way to protect them is to ensure everyone around them has been vaccinated – if you can’t get it, you can’t pass it on.
“If you think you may have been exposed to measles or have symptoms, please call your general practice first, 24/7. Calls made to general practices after hours will be answered by a nurse who will advise you what to do and where to go if you need to be seen.
“The MMR vaccine is very effective protection and we should see this as an opportunity for us all to make sure we are up to date with our vaccinations,” says Dr Pink.
More information about measles is available at https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/measles and http://www.immune.org.nz.
Anyone with measles symptoms or who believes they may have been exposed, can contact their usual general practice 24/7 for additional advice. If people call their GP Team after hours follow the instructions to be put through to a nurse will answer the call and advise what to do and where to go if you need to be seen.