Students at risk should stay home if measles comes

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014

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Waikato school students who have not been immunised might be asked to stay home if a measles outbreak hit Hamilton - but it would be tricky to identify them, local principals say.

The comments come after about 20 students of Auckland's Westlake Boys' High School came down with the infectious illness, and students not immunised were asked to help stop the spread by staying away for about two weeks.

In late 2011, a measles outbreak in Te Awamutu prompted the Waikato District Health Board to take similar action - notifying all Waikato schools and asking non-immunised students who had been or may have been in contact with measles to stay home.

Should the latest bout of measles spread to the Waikato, it would be difficult for schools to determine which students have not been immunised, Waikato Principals' Association president John Coulam said.

Records given in the enrolment process were often incomplete, and schools didn't have time to keep them up-to-date, he said.

"All we could do was implore to parents that if children were not immunised then they were at risk."

Linking the National Immunisation Register data to a student's national student number - which follows them through schooling - would provide schools with an up-to-date record in this kind of situation, Mr Coulam said.

However he wasn't sure if it was possible, and thought people might be concerned about the "Big Brother" aspect of it, he said.

At the school Mr Coulam is principal of - Marian Catholic School - a system is already in place to protect students with low immune systems, for example as a consequence of chemotherapy.

"As soon as we are aware that there's a virus - tummy bug or some form of virus around - we notify the parents immediately of the students with a low immune system.

"So those students stay home and not be exposed to it, because it could be life-threatening for them."

At Hamilton Boys' High, parents would be asked to support the school in stemming the spread, headmaster Susan Hassall said.

That could include asking non-immunised students to stay home. "It would have to be a request. You couldn't insist upon it because you wouldn't know, necessarily," she said.

Communication would be key to finding the right strategy, she said.

Deanwell School principal Pat Poland said he would "certainly" consider asking students to stay home if advised by health professionals.

"At the end of the day we'll do what we need to, to protect our kids," he said.

Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Anita Bell said most Waikato children were immunised.

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But often the best solution was for those who weren't to stay home if there was an outbreak, she said.

This could not only stop those students getting measles, but also slow the spread and protect other people susceptible to disease, she said.

The incubation period was 10 days to two weeks, she said, but in certain cases students could get their immunity tested or get a second vaccine and return to school earlier. While there were no cases of measles in the Waikato to date, Dr Bell said it was likely they could follow the Auckland outbreak. Immunisation with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was the best protection, she said.

WHAT IS MEASLES: A severe viral infection of the respiratory system, easily spread by coughing and sneezing

SYMPTOMS INCLUDE: High temperature Sore eyes Small white spots developing inside the mouth; Harsh, dry cough Aches and pains; Diarrhoea and vomiting; Red blotchy rash developing three or four days after initial symptoms

WHAT TO DO: Stay away from public places and non-immunised family members Phone a doctor as soon as possible

- Waikato Times

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