Measles threat a serious concern

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2014

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Measles could still run rampant in Waikato despite a slowdown in its spread, health bosses say.

Medical centre staff in Hamilton are taking the threat so seriously they are taking swabs from potential carriers in the car park outside the centre to prevent contagion.

And how much getting children out of classrooms for the school holidays will affect spread of the potentially fatal disease could come down to sheer luck.

Kim Hunter, the head nurse at the NorthCare Medical Centre in Pukete, said NorthCare and their colleagues at the Grandview Heights centre had dealt with plenty of measles cases. The nearby Fraser High School was an epicentre of the recent outbreak.

She urged everyone who suspected they might not be immunised against the virus to avail themselves of the free vaccinations on offer.

"It's a huge issue. Anyone who has not had two doses of the MMR vaccine is a potential carrier. It's very serious for adults, who could suffer from severe complications if they get measles . . . if the spread of the disease gets out of hand there could be terrible consequences for people such as chemotherapy patients or those on treatments that suppress their immune systems."

Suspected measles carriers were being treated in the car park to protect patients inside the centre. After one measles sufferer arrived unexpectedly, the room in which he was treated could not be entered for two hours.

"We encourage people to call us first, so we can prepare for their arrival," Hunter said.

Between 50 and 70 people were being immunised at the clinics every day.

"It adds a huge load to our work. We have full clinics anyway with the regular winter ills, and this is on top of that."

It was not known if the school holidays would bring respite from measles' spread.

"I'd have to toss a coin to give you the answer to that one," Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Anita Bell said.

"You could say yes, you could say no. We are seeing the number of measles cases slightly decreasing in Hamilton, but we don't know if it's a dip before the third wave hits.

"As always, if you don't want your child to catch measles the advice is always the same. Getting them fully immunised against it is the best thing to do."

As of Friday, the health board's Population Health service had been notified of 95 confirmed measles cases - an increase of 11 since the last update on 27 June.

Of the 95 cases, 48 were laboratory confirmed while the rest were people close to someone with a confirmed case who had a "clinically compatible illness".

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Almost a quarter of confirmed cases were people who lived with someone with measles and had been placed in quarantine before they were unwell.

Younger people were still those most at risk.

"Approximately 80 per cent of cases are aged between 10 to 20 years of age," Bell said.

"The other 20 per cent are aged under 10 years and are close contacts of confirmed cases in quarantine, as they were

not vaccinated. Seven cases have been hospitalised but are now well."

Of the 95 cases, only four had been immunised with two documented doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Four cases had received one dose.

About 50 people with an illness like measles had been investigated but were found not to have it.

Bell said , the spread of measles had nothing to do with cold weather.

"The number of cases in the community are directly related to the proportion of the population who get vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease. It tends to blow itself out and then, if someone comes in from overseas with measles, it can take off again."

Not only children are at risk from measles - although the levels of danger to adults vary.

If you were born before 1969, it is assumed you will have natural immunity due to previous contact with the disease. If you were born after 1969, it is crucial to check your vaccination status and get immunised if you don't know whether you are 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 MMR vaccine.

Measles is a highly infectious viral disease spread from person to person through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing. It can lead to serious complications such as permanent hearing loss, brain damage, and even death.

The last major epidemic in New Zealand was in 1997 when 2000 people, mostly babies and children, were infected and more than 300 needed hospital care.

In 2011, one child infected 500 other people. Just being in the same room as someone with measles can lead to infection if you are not immune.

The early symptoms of measles are fever, runny nose, sore red eyes and a cough. After three to five days a red, blotchy rash appears on the face and head, and then spreads down the body.

People who develop measles should stay away from public places. If you are unable to visit your GP, phone Healthline on 0800 611 116. mike.mather@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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