Health officials are urging New Zealanders to stay alert to symptoms of measles and ensure that children aged between 15 months and 4 years receive their normal MMR vaccinations.
Measles is a highly infectious airborne virus which affects both children and adults.
There have been six confirmed cases of measles in Hawke’s Bay this year. It is possible it could spread further in the region given an ongoing outbreak in other regions, and more cases being confirmed internationally. See the Immunisation Advisory Centre fact sheet IMAC Measles fact sheet for more measles and MMR vaccination information.
What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles symptoms are:
- cough or runny nose or conjunctivitis
- fever above 38.50c
- a rash.
If you’re sick stay home – this is good advice if you have any respiratory or flu-like illness. Telephone your GP for advice – do not go to your GP in person as you may spread the illness to other people in the waiting room. Remember in Hawke’s Bay you can call your own General Practice after hours – and be put through to a clinic that is open for free health advice. You can also call Healthline for free 24/7 advice on 0800 611 116.
How does measles spread?
Measles is a highly infectious virus that spreads easily from person to person through the air, via breathing, coughing and sneezing. It affects both children and adults.
It is spread through droplets in the air and through contact, so that anyone unimmunised who has been in the same room as someone with measles will likely get it.
Anyone with measles needs to be isolated from the time they become ill until 5 days after the rash has appeared. It is extremely important to stay in isolation if you’re asked to do so, to protect vulnerable people including babies, pregnant women, cancer patients and others who are unable to be immunised.
Who is protected from measles?
People who have had two MMR vaccinations (typically given at 15months and 4 years) are considered immune from measles.
People born before 1969 will have been exposed to the measles virus and will have acquired immunity.
Those born between 1969 and 1990 were only offered one measles vaccination are considered to have a good level of protection – a single dose of the MMR typically provides protection against measles to 95% of people vaccinated. The immunity of this population is much higher than previously thought.
I don’t know if I am immune from measles or not?
If you are over 50 (that is, born before 1969), you are considered immune.
If you know you have had two MMR vaccinations you are also considered immune.
If you can’t find your vaccination records and can’t remember if you have the MMR vaccine or not, it’s perfectly safe to have a booster measles vaccination, unless you are pregnant or think you might be.
If in doubt get immunised.
Are MMR vaccinations free?
How long does it take for the vaccination to work?
It takes two weeks for a person to be fully immune after a vaccination.
What to do if there’s been a case of measles in a school or pre-school?
Most students in Hawke’s Bay have good immunity against measles.
Health authorities will be in contact with any school or early childhood education centre where there has been a confirmed case and advise accordingly.
If there is a confirmed case at their preschool, child care centre or school, then parents should keep their unimmunised child at home.
What if there’s been a case of measles in a workplace?
Most people in workplaces are likely to have good immunity against measles. Those born before 1969, and those born after 1992 who have had two MMR vaccinations, are considered immune from measles. Most people aged between 29 and 50 have received one dose – one MMR protects 95% of people against developing measles.
Health authorities will be in contact with a workplace where there has been a confirmed case and advise accordingly.
Can pregnant women get vaccinated?
Pregnant women cannot be immunised with MMR as it is a live vaccine. See details at www.immune.org.nz
Instead, pregnant women who are not immune and who have come into contact with a measles case within six days will be given immunoglobulin which confers passive immunity.
If you're pregnant and think you have come into contact with someone with measles, and aren’t sure if you’re immune, you should speak to your midwife and see your general practitioner (GP) as soon as possible.
Generally speaking, most women of childbearing age in New Zealand have been immunised as a child against measles. Women who are unsure of their immunisation status can seek advice from their GP.
If a pregnant women is not immune, and contracts measles during pregnancy, she may be at increased risk of miscarriage, premature labour, or a low birthweight baby. These effects are not common however it is important to be aware of this.
If you contract measles during pregnancy, your midwife will discuss with you how to access additional care during your pregnancy to monitor your baby’s wellbeing, and to ensure follow up care for your baby after he or she is born. It is very important to avoid contact with others while you are infectious with the measles. Please make contact with healthcare providers by telephone in the first instance.
As the MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccine is a live weakened vaccine, it is not advisable to receive this vaccine while pregnant.
Mums with newborns:
Breastfeeding can provide passive immunity to babies. Breastfeeding is strongly encouraged, especially for babies under 12 months of age, as this can provide protection against measles.
Note: Passive immunity is the passing of antibodies from an immune person to a non-immune person, providing temporary protection against disease-causing bacteria or viruses. Maternal antibodies are transferred to a baby in utero (via the placenta) and through breastfeeding (via colostrum and breastmilk).
Generally speaking, most women of childbearing age in New Zealand have been immunised against measles as a child. Women who are unsure of their immunisation status can seek advice from their GP.
If a pregnant woman is known to have been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with measles, please advise her to contact her general practice team immediately who can organise administration of immunoglobulin to provide protection. Immunoglobulin can be given to non-immune pregnant women (and is effective) up to 6 days after exposure to a confirmed case – not during the illness. Information about this process is available on Health Pathways.
Due to the measles outbreak in Auckland, the Ministry of Health updated its national advisory on Tuesday 27 August. It recommends parents of babies aged 12 months of age ensure their child receives their first measles vaccine if travelling to, or living in, Auckland. The first measles vaccine is normally given at 15 months.
The vaccine should be given at least two weeks before travelling to allow their immunity to develop.
If you're planning a large gathering or event, or planning to attend a large gathering or event:
- At this stage the Ministry of Health does not recommend event organisers cancel events such as concerts, sports events, festivals, or other public congregations. However, organisers are asked to liaise closely with their local DHBs and public pealth pnits for the latest advice.
- Teenagers and young adults are less likely to be protected, so it's really important young people are taking action to protect themselves and those around them. Parents should make sure their children are protected at least two weeks before attending mass gatherings, to allow immunity to develop.
- For school-based events consider the possibility that an unimmunised person (student, caregiver or staff member) participating in the event could be in the early stages of measles, even though they do not appear unwell.
- For school-based events, it is important to ascertain who is unimmunised, so if they have been exposed to someone who has measles, or they themselves have signs and symptoms of measles, they can be isolated quickly.
- Measles is highly contagious, especially when staying in close quarters or through close contact in sport. If you or your child are feeling sick and thinking of attending these, or other events, we advise you to stay home.
- If you or a family member aren’t fully immunised and may have been in contact with someone with measles you should also stay away from work, school or public places, to help prevent putting other people at risk.
- With school holidays almost here, it's important to make sure you're immunised two weeks before travelling to Auckland or internationally where there are outbreaks of measles.