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There have now been 111 cases of measles reported in New Zealand so far this year.  

Outbreaks of measles occur when the disease is brought into the country following international travel.  The virus then spreads to others in the community because the country’s vaccination rates are not high enough to prevent disease spread.

ESR, the science agency which tracks all notifiable diseases on behalf of the Ministry of Health, says there is always a risk importation of the disease will lead to outbreaks and a return to a situation where measles could become endemic again.

Two years ago, New Zealand won international praise for successfully eliminating endemic measles – meaning the virus was no long circulating here. 

The World Health Organisation said this month that cases worldwide rose by 300 per cent during the first three months of 2019 compared with the same period last year, and followed consecutive increases over the past two years.

It said while the data was provisional, it indicated a clear trend, with many countries in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases.

The WHO says so far this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases. At this time last year, 163 countries had reported 28,124 cases.

In New Zealand there were 102 cases for the first four months of the year compared with 24 for the same period last year. 

For the best protection, people need to have two MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations. The MMR is available from your family practice and you should ask if you are eligible for a free vaccination.

Anyone who suspects they may have measles should avoid contact with other people, especially those who aren’t fully immunised, and should 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. 

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Gael Woods