Measles cases 'continue to climb' as patients recover from intensive hospital care

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey says the region is "not out of the woods" as the number of measles cases continues to grow. Several people have been admitted to hospital.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey says the region is "not out of the woods" as the number of measles cases continues to grow. Several people have been admitted to hospital.

Canterbury's measles outbreak has taken two more casualties as the number of confirmed cases reaches 22.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey is calling for diligence as the disease affects people all over the city and "several" recover from time in intensive care.

"It's everywhere. You can no longer say it's North Canterbury," he told media on Sunday.

There have now been 22 measles cases in Canterbury. About half are in the 29 to 50 age bracket, but young children remain the most vulnerable. (File photo)
SUPPLIED
There have now been 22 measles cases in Canterbury. About half are in the 29 to 50 age bracket, but young children remain the most vulnerable. (File photo)

The Canterbury District Health Board's (CDHB) aim is now to contain the disease within Canterbury, to protect the remainder of the country.

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"Most GPs now are making sure that people who think they might have measles are being kept in the car park and checked out in the car park. A week-or-two ago, there might've been a case that slipped through," he said. 

About 100,000 vaccines would be distributed by general practices across the city over the next few weeks, he said.

Priority will go people aged 1 to 29 who have not been vaccinated at all. Following that, doctors will prioritise a second vaccination for children who have had one.

"The third priority is all the adults between 29 and 50 who are keen to make sure they're fully immune," Humphrey said.

"There's a logical approach to this. Adults who want the vaccine are going to need to be a little more patient as we're going to do the more vulnerable people first."

Of all cases in Canterbury so far, about half had been in that 29 to 50 age bracket, Humphrey said. This was likely due to only one, less effective vaccine being available in the 70s and 80s. Still, under-vaccinated small children were most at risk.

People will be notified if schools, preschools or other institutions have had cases of measles. The CDHB could not tell concerned people not to go out, but Humphrey asked people to be "mindful".

"If you're not fully vaccinated or your children are not fully vaccinated, there is a risk if you go somewhere where large groups of children are congregated.

"We will watch that epidemic curve very closely to make sure that as it starts to come down, we know that we are coming out of the woods. We are not at that stage just yet. Our numbers continue to climb."

The CDHB could not say how the outbreak started as the index case – the first patient – had not been identified. However, it was likely to be someone who travelled from overseas.

Humphrey urged people to take measles seriously and ensure they took the right steps to get vaccinated and stop its spread. The disease kills one in 100 people in developed countries, but Canterbury had escaped any fatalities.

"Everybody is well, there's nobody in hospital [now] as far as I'm aware. There have been people in hospital, there have been people in ICU [the intensive care unit]. It's a serious illness and fortunately those several people in ICU are recovering.

"There will be some people who get very ill and when you get sick it's really just supportive care because it's a virus and we can't really treat it. It is worth mentioning, I think, that some people have been very sick, but it's also worth mentioning they've recovered."

Of all who had contracted the disease so far, not one had received both MMR vaccines, Humphrey said.

"It's not always because they've chosen not to or forgotten about it, some are children who are too young to have had two, and obviously quite a few people are in the 30 to 50 bracket and didn't know they were supposed to have two.

"If you have two, it protects you. If you don't have two, you're vulnerable."

The outbreak had been tough, busy and "frustrating" for medical staff, especially as "they've not got all the vaccine they need straight away".

 

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