Canterbury measles outbreak – advice for parents

Immunisation is your best protection against measles, which is an incredibly infectious and serious illness.

Two doses of MMR vaccine are free for all unimmunised or partially immunised people who were born after 1969, and are over 12 months’ old.

There are now 28 confirmed cases of the measles in the Canterbury area.

Measles advice from the Ministry of Health - March 2019

Who needs to get immunised?

Canterbury has set up a priority system for vaccinations. Those most in need are:

  • Children aged 12 months to 5 years who have not received any doses of MMR (the second dose usually administered at 4 years old can be brought forward to no sooner than four weeks after the first dose).
  • Children and young adults aged 5 to 28 who have not been immunised or have only received one dose of MMR.
  • Adults aged 29 to 50, a cohort who only received one dose of the measles vaccine.

It is recommended that children are immunised with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination at 15 months and 4 years of age.

People born before 1969 are considered to be low risk and do not require vaccination.

Child under one?

It is not proposed that children under 12 months old are vaccinated at this time. It is better to vaccinate the older age groups to provide immunity for the younger.

Vaccination before 12 months of age does not provide full immunity.

Plunket Chief Nurse Dr Jane O’Malley explains, “The measles virus is incredibly infectious. You have a 90% chance of catching it just by walking past someone who has the disease. That’s why the first priority is to immunise people who haven’t had the two doses of MMR, as they are the most likely to spread the disease.”

“By immunising these people, you provide a wall of protection (‘herd immunisation’) and essentially help protect everyone – including babies under 12 months.”

If you live in the Canterbury area and are concerned for your young child’s safety, the best thing to do is to make sure the people your child regularly interacts with (whānau, carers) have received their two doses of MMR.

MMR does not cause autism

Dr O’Malley adds, “We know one of the reasons for the reluctance to vaccinate is the myth that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine can cause autism. But that is simply not true. Just last week a new study (with some 650,000+ participants) once again proved that the MMR vaccine is no way linked with autism.

“Plunket appreciate parents only want the best for their children, and it can be frightening to think that vaccines could harm them. Immunising your child has been proven to be the best protection you can give them against measles, mumps and rubella,” says Dr O’Malley.

Measles symptoms

The measles rash.

The measles rash.

Measles symptoms include a respiratory-type of illness with dry cough, runny nose and headache. Temperatures can be over 38.5C and people feel very unwell.

A red blotchy rash starts on day four to five, usually on the face before moving to the chest and arms. The time between exposure and the first symptoms is about 10 days. People are considered infectious from about five days before to five days after the rash appears.

For more information

For up to date advice on the Canterbury measles outbreak, please follow Canterbury District Health Board on Facebook and check their website.

You can also call HealthLine on 0800 611 116, your local GP, or PlunketLine on 0800 933 922 if you suspect a family member may have measles symptoms.

If you do have questions around immunisation, please feel free to call 0800 IMMUNE (466 863) or a PlunketLine Nurse on 0800 933 922 - or have a chat with your Doctor, Nurse Practitioner or Practice Nurse.

Information for families from Canterbury DHB - see here

12 March 2019

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