Measles cases continue to increase in New Zealand. ESR is urging people to be especially aware of measles as the school holidays start and there is increased travel within the country and overseas.
New ESR surveillance data show there have been 260 confirmed cases of measles so far in 2019, with a further 28 notifications in the latest week (ended 28 June).
So far in 2019, there have been 109 hospitalisations with measles New Zealand-wide and of the 50 measles cases in babies aged under 15 months, 31 have been hospitalised.
In the latest week, cases have been notified in the Auckland and Wellington regions and in the Northland District Health Board (DHB) area, with the majority of cases concentrated in the Counties Manukau DHB area where 17 cases were notified.
ESR Public Health Physician Dr Jill Sherwood says measles is a serious and highly infectious disease, and people are infectious from five days before a rash appears until five days after. “Higher vaccination rates are essential for stopping the spread.”
“The pattern is clear. Outbreaks start when measles is brought into the country by someone who has travelled in from overseas. The virus then spreads to others in the community because our vaccination rates are simply not high enough to prevent disease spread,” Dr Sherwood says.
“Babies who are too young to be vaccinated and immuno-compromised people are particularly at risk, and protection for these groups relies on high levels of immunity in the wider community.”
Dr Sherwood urges parents to take the risk of measles very seriously, especially as the school holidays start, and there is increased travel and families are mixing more widely in the community.
The Ministry of Health advises all people in this country born since January 1st 1969 to have two MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations. Vaccinations are available from general practitioners, free of charge. Under the National Immunisation Schedule, MMR vaccination for infants is recommended at ages 15 months and four years. The first dose has currently been brought forward to 12 months in the Auckland region due to the increasing number of cases.
Dr Sherwood says genotyping analysis of virus strains known to be circulating in New Zealand in 2019 has so far identified eight separate outbreaks, each linked to an international arrival.
Dr Sherwood says: “At this stage, we have no reason to believe that the continuing rise in notified cases reflects a new outbreak. It does, however, underscore the critical need for higher vaccination rates across the New Zealand population and for people to isolate themselves during the infectious period for measles.”
Anyone who suspects they may have the disease should avoid contact with other people and phone their GP or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice. It is important to call first because measles is highly infectious, and people with measles can infect others in the waiting room.
For further information about measles (external link)