The number of confirmed cases of measles in Canterbury now stands at twenty-five 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.
Under-immunised 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. Up to 30 percent will develop complications – usually children under five. Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature labour and low birth-weight in babies.
Under-immunised people exposed to measles first develop a respiratory type illness with dry cough or runny nose or conjunctivitis and a temperature over 38.5 C and a rash. 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 is to have had two MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations.
Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ramon Pink says measles is now in widespread circulation and people who aren’t fully immune could be exposed to the risk of infection anywhere in Canterbury.
“Immunisation is the only sure way to avoid getting measles. Only people who were born before 1969 or have had two MMR vaccinations are considered fully protected. Those aged between 29 and 50 will only have had one measles vaccination and are not considered immune.”
General practice teams have been asked to prioritise the following groups for MMR immunisation, in this order:
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).
Extra supplies of the MMR vaccine in Canterbury are being delivered, with 18,000 doses expected to be available in practices from Wednesday.
“Given their higher risk, our focus over the short term is to provide MMR immunisations to those under 29 years who are not fully vaccinated. People between the ages of 29 and 50 can expect to get a measles vaccine from their general practice in a week or two,” says Dr Pink.
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 https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseas… 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.