Measles outbreak: Need to know

With the recent news of a measles outbreak  and cases of measles popping up around the country, it’s important to ensure you understand what measles is, why it’s serious, and how you can protect your family.

What is measles?

Measles, also known as “English measles” or morbilli, is a potentially serious, highly infectious disease caused by a virus.

What are the symptoms of measles?

The illness begins with fever, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes), which lasts for two to four days. It may be possible to see small white spots (Koplik spots) inside the mouth. A rash appears two to four days after the first symptoms, beginning on the head and gradually spreading down the body to the arms and legs. The rash lasts for up to one week. If you think your child might have measles or might have been exposed to measles, contact your GP straightaway. Call ahead before visiting your GP as they’ll

need arrange a separate waiting area for you and your child, away from other patients.

How do you catch measles?

Measles is spread through contact with infectious droplets from the nose or throat of a person with measles, often during the first two to four days of symptoms before the rash appears. One person with measles can pass the disease on to 12 to 18 people who have not already had measles or been immunised against the disease.

How serious is measles?

Complications from measles are common. They may be caused by the measles virus or a bacteria because the measles virus lowers the body’s ability to fight other infections. The risk of complications and death are higher in children under five years and adults over 20 years of age. Anyone who has a weakness of their immune system is at greater risk of very serious disease. These people are often unable to be immunised and rely on protection from those around them being immunised.

How do you prevent measles?

Immunisation is the best way to prevent measles. In the event of a measles outbreak, unimmunised children and adults born on or after 1 January 1969 who do not have evidence of immunity against measles and who have contact with a measles case are advised NOT to attend early childhood services, school, or public places for 14 days after their last contact with the infected person.

How safe is the MMR vaccine?

The risk of the MMR vaccine causing serious harm is extremely rare. Immunisation against measles is considerably safer than getting the disease. There is no evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Extensive research conducted into whether the MMR vaccine contributes to the development of autism has not shown a link. Read more detailed info at

Which vaccines protect against measles?

The measles vaccine was introduced in New Zealand in 1969 and replaced by the combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine in 1990. The combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is the only vaccine available in New Zealand to prevent measles. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended after the age of 12 months, given at least four weeks apart. After the first dose of MMR vaccine, 90–95% of people will be protected against measles; that is, five to 10 people out of every 100 immunised could still get measles. After the second dose, almost everyone is protected.

Who should get the MMR vaccine?

The first dose of the MMR vaccine is due at 15 months of age and the second at four years of age. However, parents can request the first MMR vaccine be given anytime from 12 months of age. They can receive the other three vaccines due at 15 months early as well (PCV10, Hib and chicken pox). The second MMR dose can also be given early, but at least four weeks after the first, and they will to have the other 4 year vaccines on time .  During an outbreak of measles, a Medical Officer of Health may recommend that a baby in close contact with measles and aged six to 12 months of age have an early MMR vaccine dose. When a baby this young has an MMR vaccine, they still need two doses after they are 12 months of age.

The current outbreak in early 2019 has caused some limits on vaccine supply. The priorities for vaccination do differ a little around the country. Early immunisation at 12 months is recommended in Canterbury DHB, but remains at 15 months in other DHB areas. Getting the 2nd dose early may also depend upon local supply, as getting everyone’s first dose is the main priority.

What about adults?

It is recommended that adults born after 1968 have documented evidence of two doses of the MMR vaccine given after 12 months of age, even if they have records showing receipt of measles-only or measles/rubella vaccine(s). Women who are currently pregnant cannot have the vaccine, and should delay pregnancy for one month after having the vaccine. Healthy close contacts of pregnant women, or those with an immune system weakness, can be given the MMR vaccine. Women who are breastfeeding can be given the MMR vaccine.

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