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Focus on controlling measles continues in the Bay of Plenty

Following up measles cases and close contacts to contain the spread of the disease, and maintaining the national Childhood Immunisation Schedule, continue to be the priority for Bay of Plenty and Lakes health authorities. A significant outbreak of measles continues in Auckland, with a number of cases occuring around the country. The national focus is on protecting children, as they are most likely to be hospitalised, and controlling spread in the Auckland outbreak.

“In the Bay of Plenty and Lakes DHB areas, there have been 50 confirmed cases of measles since 1 January 2019, of which 20 have had a hospital admission,” says Dr Jim Miller, Medical Officer of Health for the Bay of Plenty and Lakes districts. “Our local priorities are following up of cases and close contacts to contain the spread of measles, and maintaining the national Childhood Immunisation Schedule for vaccinating children against measles at 15 months and four years.”

Measles is a very infectious viral illness that spreads easily from person to person. It can be serious, with over a third of cases in the current outbreak requiring hospital treatment. Immunisation with the MMR vaccine is very effective in preventing measles.

In the Bay of Plenty and Lakes DHB areas, priority groups for MMR vaccination are:
• Children at 15 months and four years
• Infants aged between 12 and 15 months who are travelling to areas where there are serious measles outbreaks – including Auckland.

If anyone in your family falls into these current priority groups, please contact your general practice to arrange for the MMR vaccination. If you are concerned about your infant aged 6–11 months being at high risk of exposure due to travel, you should speak to your GP.

The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is free and very effective in preventing measles. After just one dose of MMR vaccine about 95% of people will be immune and so protected from measles, and 99% of people who have had two MMR doses will be immune.

People born before 1 January 1969 are also considered to be immune because virtually everyone got measles prior to the measles immunisations being introduced that year, and so this older age group (about 50 years and over) do not need to have the measles immunisations.

“Distribution of vaccine is being carefully managed, so the Ministry of Health is working with district health boards to prioritise vaccine supply and ensure our most vulnerable groups are protected,” says Dr Miller. “If you or your family do not fall into these current priority groups, it is still important to consider whether you are immune. Younger children will have had their immunisation recorded at their general practice; for teenagers and older adults, checking Plunket books can be helpful, for example.

If you are still unsure, you may need to catch up on your MMR immunisation. Currently children under five are our top priority. More vaccine has been confirmed for New Zealand but until it arrives and is distributed, practices will be operating waiting lists for those outside of the priority groups,” says Dr Miller.

“Measles spreads very easily”, advises Dr Miller. “If you think you or someone in your family may have measles, it is very important that you stay at home and phone your doctor to alert them to your symptoms and allow them to make arrangements to assess you safely.”

Please do not just turn up to your GP, after hours or emergency department without first phoning ahead as you could potentially infect others. If you do have measles and you attend a clinic or hospital waiting room, you may risk spreading the infection to anyone in that space who is not immune.

Alternatively, you can call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice.

For more information about measles go to:

• Toi Te Ora Public Health website: www.toiteora.govt.nz/measles
• Immunisation Advisory Centre: 0800 IMMUNE (466 863) or www.immune.org.nz
• Ministry of Health 2019 measles outbreak information: www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/measles/2019-measles-outbreak-information

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