Measles outbreak blamed on vaccination gap

A measles outbreak in Hamilton may have been caused by parents neglecting to immunise their children.

The Waikato District Health Board has confirmed eight cases of the virus from Fraser High School but that number could balloon out to be more than 35.

The board's medical officer of health, Dr Anita Bell, said the outbreak reinforced the need for immunisation .

"Ninety-eight per cent of cases we are seeing are from children who are not immunised," she said.

Most of the patients from Fraser High were aged 13-19 and had been treated by GPs, except for one who needed to be admitted to Waikato Hospital overnight for observation.

It would take several days before the health board could confirm all cases as it was waiting on patient test results to be returned from Christchurch, Bell said.

Immunisation Research and Vaccinology Advisory Centre director Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said children aged under 2 were well protected against the measles virus but there were still large pockets of the population not immunised.

"We do not know exactly what percentage of adolescents are not immunised but in the 1990s we had only about 60 per cent coverage rate," she said.

Immunisation rates had steadily improved across New Zealand, however the country was still lagging in comparison with its Australian neighbour which had been declared a measles-free nation.

"Ninety-four per cent of the population will be protected with just one shot, but that figure rises to 98 per cent with a second [jab]," Petousis-Harris said.

Fraser High School principal Virginia Crawford said the school was first notified of the outbreak on May 27.

All parents had been notified of the outbreak and given an information pack about the virus.

Measles is a highly infectious viral disease spread from person to person through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing.

Just being in the same room as someone with measles can lead to infection if you are not immune.

People who are regarded as not immune to measles are those younger than 45 years old (born after January 1, 1969) who have not had two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Infants under the age of 15 months who have not received their first routine dose of MMR vaccine are susceptible.

They rely on everyone else to be immune so that measles does not spread to them.

Children over 4 years old who have not received their second dose of MMR are also susceptible.

The early symptoms of measles are fever, runny nose, sore red eyes and a cough.

After 3-5 days a red, blotchy rash appears on the face and head, and then spreads down the body.

People who develop measles should stay at home and away from public places.

If you are unable to visit your GP, phone Healthline on 0800 611 116.

Waikato Times