Continued risk of measles over summer

Shannon Moloney and Arlo

Public Health Nurse Shannon Moloney and her son Arlo. “I wouldn’t even consider taking Arlo to anywhere that has had a measles outbreak without making sure he was vaccinated. It is such a simple thing to do to give you peace of mind.”

With summer holidays approaching, the local Medical Officer of Health is asking Tairāwhiti residents to check their MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) immunisation are up to date to prevent summer plans being spoiled by measles.

New Zealand is experiencing its largest measles outbreak in 20 years.  There have been over 2,000 cases of measles nationwide.  In Tairāwhiti there have been four visitors with measles who spent time in the region – fortunately, there was no spread to local residents.

The influx of visitors for the summer and local people travelling to areas where measles are prevalent makes this a likely time for cases to establish here.

“Measles is extremely infectious - it’s spread from one person to another through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing.”   Says medical officer of health Dr Margot McLean, “Just being in the same room as someone with measles can lead to you becoming infected if you are not immunised. It can be very serious, with over a third of local cases in the current outbreak receiving hospital treatment.”

The MMR immunisation is very effective at preventing measles. “It’s important to ensure that you and your children are up to date with all immunisations and the MMR immunisation in particular. The MMR immunisation is free for everyone in New Zealand,” says Dr McLean.

“Ask yourself – is my family protected?”  Dig out your Well Child or Plunket book and check your immunisation records or if you’re still unsure simply ask at your Medical Centre.”

People born before 1 January 1969 are considered to be immune to measles.

Measles cases continue at a high rate around New Zealand and in the Pacific. In Samoa, 15 children have died. Given the outbreaks of measles in Samoa, Tonga, Philippines and Fiji, the Ministry of Health says that anyone who is aged 50 and under and is travelling to any country that has an active outbreak of measles should ensure their vaccinations are up to date at least two weeks before travel.

The priority groups to get vaccinated are:

  • all children at 15 months and four years as per the national Childhood Immunisation Schedule
  • babies aged six months to 11 months who live in Auckland or who are travelling to Auckland or overseas to a country that has an active outbreak of measles
  • children and adolescents aged 15 and under who have not had a single dose of MMR
  • people under the age of 50 travelling from New Zealand to Samoa, Tonga, Philippines and Fiji
  • People travelling to a region where there is an active outbreak of measles – regions with measles outbreaks can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(external link) website.
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“It’s never too late to catch up if you or your children need to be immunised.  Contact your family doctor or practice nurse to make an appointment to be immunised today,” says Dr McLean.

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