Auckland measles outbreak puts strain on public health service

People who went to Sky City and the Sugar Tree apartments on February 9 were most likely exposed to the disease.
JOHN SELKIRK/FAIRFAX NZ

People who went to Sky City and the Sugar Tree apartments on February 9 were most likely exposed to the disease.

Auckland health services are battling to contain the measles outbreak, with 48 people currently in quarantine in their own homes and four confirmed cases of the infectious disease. 

The number of confirmed cases of the disease had not increased since Friday, but Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) said more possible cases were being investigated following the public health alert last week when a person ignored quarantine instructions.

"Some staff are working extra shifts and the phone is constantly ringing," said Medical Officer of Health Dr Richard Hoskins. "The laboratories have an unusually heavy workload as they visit people's homes to obtain blood samples and process blood tests so we can quarantine people who are not immune. Our number one priority is public safety and that means stopping the disease spreading as quickly as possible," 

Four people have been confirmed with measles while another 48 have been quarantined after one person ignored their ...
SUPPLIED

Four people have been confirmed with measles while another 48 have been quarantined after one person ignored their quarantine requirements, potentially causing an outbreak of the infectious disease.

Three of the measles cases came from an infected passenger on China Southern Airlines' flight CZ305, which arrived in Auckland on January 30. 

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The public health alert was raised after one person off the flight ignored their quarantine requirements and potentially exposed hundreds to the disease. 

"I'm disappointed with this individual who disobeyed medical instructions for quarantine. They have let the public down and created a major upheaval for those involved. My plea to the people of Auckland is to always follow medical instructions and ensure you are vaccinated so you are protected against measles," Hoskins said.

ARPHS said the man was now over his illness, was not infectious and had returned to his daily routine. No decision had been made if legal action would be pursued against the man. 

The health service has been focusing on tracking over 300 individuals who may have been exposed to the disease, establishing their immunity, isolating those infected and managing the quarantine. 

"There can be a delay of up to 14 days until the first symptoms appear, so we'll know by the end of this week if anyone from SkyCity Casino or Sugar Tree apartments has been infected," Hoskins said.

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Darren Brown from Sugar Tree Apartments said he was not aware of any confirmed cases or people currently in quarantine in the apartment complex.

"It's good news really, as far as we know no one has been quarantined and no one has caught the measles," he said. 

Within the apartments, they had put warnings up throughout the apartment, put letters in each letter box and also distributed warnings via email.

The building managers and the body corporates of the aparment block had also sent warnings out to the residents. 

He said they had done all the could to make sure residents were aware of the risk and paired with the media coverage, he said everyone was informed about the matter.

ARPHS said people at risk were those who visited the Sugar Tree apartments between February 9 and 13th in the lifts and common areas.

As well as those who visited SkyCity Casino on February 9, between 9pm and midnight on level 2, 3 and public areas.

The fourth confirmed case was unrelated to the flight. The person became ill after an overseas holiday.

No public health alert would be issued in that case as it was contained to medical waiting rooms. However, a patient list was provided and ARPHS was in the process of tracking people down, it said in a media release. 

Hoskins said Measles was one of the most contagious diseases in the world.

"The virus from an infected person can stay in the air for more than an hour after they have left the room. 

This means if you don't have immunity you can contract the disease by simply walking past someone with measles.

In a recent case one child infected 25 others at school within 48 hours."

Any persons with measles could expect a delay of up to 14 days before they suffer any symptoms, he said.

However people can still be infectious without the symptoms which was why those at risk had been quarantined. 

"In New Zealand 20 per cent of cases require hospitalisation. There are a number of complications such as acute encephalitis which is a rare condition occurring in 1 out of 1000 cases and can lead to death or permanent brain damage," he said. 

Hoskins was encouraging people aged from 10-years-old to 30-years old to check their vaccination records, because without vaccination you were at risk of catching and transmitting the disease. 

"There is no treatment to cure measles or stop the illness once you have contracted the disease. The only way to protect yourself is to become vaccinated so you don't catch it in the first instance."

The first symptoms are a fever, and one or more of a runny nose, cough and sore red eyes. After a few days a red blotchy rash starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

In 2011/12 there was a 600 person measles outbreak across NZ and in 2014 there were 250 cases across Auckland and Waikato.

For more information phone Healthline for advice on 0800-611-116 or ARPHS on 09-623-4600 or visit the Auckland Regional Public Health Service website for a fact sheet on measles.

 - Stuff

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