31 May 2019

Northland childcare centre at risk after confirmed measles case

5:45 pm on 31 May 2019

More than 70 Whangarei people are in isolation after a case of measles at a city childcare centre.

Blocks at an early childhood centre

A childcare centre is included in places the latest confirmed patient with measles in Northland has been linked to. Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

Northland DHB said a young child attending daycare came down with measles last Friday, the fifth person diagnosed with the disease in Northland since January.

The centre has closed for a week, until 7 June.

Medical Officer of Health Virginia McLaughlin said the DHB had traced 118 people who had contact with the child while she was infectious.

She said there were now 70 people in isolation in Northland, including the daycare staff and families who use the centre.

"The majority of staff weren't immunised and because of the young age of the children involved, the majority of them weren't immunised because you need to be four to have your second MMR vaccination," she said.

Most staff members were unvaccinated and many of the children were also unprotected, because babies did not have their first MMR shots until age four.

She said people who had any contact with the child and could not show proof of immunity had been told they must stay away from work, school and public places until next Friday.

"It's hugely important for everyone to check their immunity status now, because if you can't prove your immunity and you do end up being traced as a contact of someone with measles, it can be pretty disruptive: you may have to stay home for two weeks and have no contact with the public or anyone who is unprotected," Dr McLaughlin said.

Measles is highly infectious - one of the most contagious diseases known - infecting about 90 percent of non-immune people who come into contact with an infected person.

It can lead to serious complications, including relatively rare cases of swelling of the brain or death.

The disease has been on the rise across the world in recent years, with cases tripling worldwide.

New Zealand has seen outbreaks in Canterbury (now declared over), Auckland and Bay of Plenty. Cases have also been reported in the Waikato, Lakes, Capital and Coast, and Southern DHB areas.

There have been concerns that Northland has a high proportion of non-immunised people, making an outbreak that much more likely, however at least one school has found vaccination levels were higher than expected.

Proponents of anti-vaccination have often been blamed for widespread lack of immunity, but researchers say an 'immunity gap' affecting an entire generation is more to blame.

The latest case had no apparent connection with the the young woman netball player who washospitalised with measles complications last week, the DHB said. She has since been discharged.

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