Measles – should you be worried??

The topic of a measles outbreak in New Zealand has been making headline news recently. Several of you who have been unwell have called me asking if your symptoms match those of measles.


At the time of writing this, there have been 723 confirmed measles cases in New Zealand, and 585 of those were within the Auckland region. This is the highest outbreak since 1997, and we face losing our status of it being an eliminated disease within NZ.


This week I thought I would update you on what you should be doing to ensure that you and your family are protected against this easily preventable disease.


The number one thing that I encourage each and every one of you to do is to ensure you and your family is immunised – if not – get immunised NOW! Rates of immunisation in NZ has been slowly reducing over recent years, and we find ourselves in a position where the lack of immunity is fuelling the spread of the disease.


Measles is a highly contagious virus which spreads through the air – coughing, sneezing, or talking can spread this disease. Just two doses of the measles vaccine provide the most effective protection for yourself, your family, and the wider community.


No measles-only vaccine is available in New Zealand. The combination measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine protect against measles. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended after the age of 12 months, given at least 4 weeks apart.


How do I know if I’m immunised?


Check with your GP or nurse to see if you or your child has received BOTH vaccinations. If they haven’t, get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is free.


If you or your child was born outside of New Zealand, or if you are not sure whether you or your child has had two doses of MMR, it’s safer to get vaccinated, as there’s no additional risk to having a third dose or even a fourth dose.


I’m travelling overseas – is there anything I should be aware of?


All cases of measles have been linked to travellers bringing in the disease from overseas – countries including the Philippines and some European countries have significant measles outbreaks currently. The Ministry of Health has advised that anyone travelling overseas should make sure that they’re fully immunised against measles before travelling.


Why is everyone so worried about measles?


Symptoms of measles can include fever, cough, sore, and watery eyes. After three to seven days, a blotchy rash can appear on the face which moves to the rest of your body. Why we are so worried about measles is that it can affect anyone – young or old and it can be life-threatening. Of those who have measles, 10% will need hospital treatment, and up to 30% will develop complications such as hearing loss, seizures, pneumonia, or swelling of the brain. This could potentially result in lifelong complications.


What if I think I have measles?


If you or a family member thinks they have measles – stay away from work, school, or public places. Call your doctor before coming to the practice and let them know that you think you could have measles so they can take steps to prevent spreading the disease. Healthline (0800 611 116) also can provide advice.


Once again, I strongly encourage you and your family to get immunised against measles. I know that some of you may be worried about immunisation, but please talk to a health professional for advice – I’m happy to have a chat with you and to go over any concerns you may have.


To you and your family’s health,


Chris Pharmacist