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New Zealand measles outbreak rises above 1,000 confirm cases

Measles is a highly infectious illness and spreads very easily.

Image: Shutterstock/Microgen

NEW ZEALAND’S MEASLES outbreak has hit a milestone of over 1,000 confirmed cases. 

A total of 1,051 cases of measles have been identified across New Zealand between 1 January and 5 September 2019, according to the Ministry of Health. 

877 of these confirmed cases are in the Auckland region.

Measles is a highly infectious illness and spreads very easily, often via coughing or sneezing. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and rash.

“We only have an outbreak in Auckland and we do have isolated cases in other parts of the country which can either be traced to contact with those in Auckland or overseas,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Ardern said that the Ministry of Health anticipates that the Auckland region will continue to see an increase in cases in the next few weeks. 

“Then the impression has to be, of course on the back of that, to see it decline,” she said. 

“We’re trying to make sure that vaccines are as available as possible, particularly in the Auckland region,” Ardern said.

She called on parents to who have children of 12 months of age or older to get them vaccinated if they have not done so already. She called on those who have their children vaccinated to check vaccination details with their GP.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said:

When you immunise your child, you’re also protecting the people around them, including those who can’t be immunised themselves.

The Ministry urged those who feel sick to stay away from work, school or public places. 

Measles in Ireland

In recent weeks, concerns have been raised about the possibility of Ireland losing its measles-free status given the recent spike in cases here.

The United Kingdom has lost its measles-free status and, following a drop in vaccine uptake rates, there are fears Ireland could end up in the same position.

Three years after eliminating the disease, the UK has been stripped of its measles-free status by the World Health Organization. 

The WHO defines measles elimination as the absence of the illness circulating, high vaccine coverage, and a robust process to identify cases.

In the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales. There were 991 confirmed cases last year, a jump from 284 cases in 2017. Most cases are linked to travel in Europe, where many countries have experienced measles outbreaks. 

Ireland has also seen an increase in cases in recent years. The number of cases here tripled from 25 in 2017 to 77 in 2018.

There have been 56 reported cases to date in 2019 – 33 of which have been confirmed.

Most cases in Ireland to date this year were among children, however there were 17 cases among people aged 20-44. Thirty-one cases involved males and 25 cases related to females. 

In Ireland, all children are entitled to, and advised to, get the MMR vaccine at the age of 12 months. They are supposed to get a second dose when four or five (in junior infants). Adults who are not sure if they received the vaccine as a child are advised to contact their GP to check and discuss getting a booster if needed. 

The uptake rate for the MMR vaccine in Ireland is 90.1% – below the HSE’s goal of 95%,  the level needed for herd immunity. 

A Unicef report released earlier this year noted that 98 countries around the world reported an increase in measles cases in 2018. The WHO said cases worldwide soared by nearly 50% in 2018, killing around 136,000 people. There were at least 72 measles-related deaths in Europe in 2018, up from 42 in 2017, but none in Ireland.

TheJournal.ie explored the issue in a previous episode of The Explainer podcast:


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

MEASLES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

How to recognise the symptoms?

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Red rash that starts on the head and spreads down the body – this normally starts a few days after onset of illness; the rash consists of flat red or brown blotches, which can flow into each other; it lasts about four to seven days
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy pain may also happen

Measles can cause chest infections, fits (seizures), ear infections, swelling of the brain and/or damage to the brain.

The Department of Health gives the following advice in relation to the MMR vaccine:

  • All children should get the MMR vaccine when they are aged 12 months; if any child aged over 12 months has missed this vaccine they should get it now from their GP
  • All children should get a second dose of MMR vaccine when they are four to five years old or in junior infants at school; if any child in senior infants or older has missed this vaccine they should get it now from their GP
  • Adults under 40 years who have not had measles or have not received two doses of MMR vaccine should contact their GP to get the MMR vaccine
  • Adults over 40 years of age may sometimes be at risk and if such adults never had measles nor a measles-containing vaccine they should consider getting the MMR vaccine from their GP

What advice does the HSE give to people who think they might have measles?

  • Do not go to work, school or crèche
  • Stay at home and phone your GP – tell the doctor or nurse that you think you might have measles
  • Stop visitors coming to your home
  • Pregnant women who have been exposed to measles should seek medical advice as soon as possible

With reporting by Conor McCrave and Órla Ryan

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