New Zealand measles outbreak causing serious concern

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A measles outbreak on the south island of New Zealand is causing serious concern, with 22 confirmed cases and emergency supplies of vaccine being rushed from around the country. The Guardian reports that amid the worst outbreak “in years”, health officials have warned cases will spread in the coming days and weeks, as around one-fifth of people living in the affected Canterbury region have not had their full suite of vaccinations, or any at all.

“It can now be assumed that measles is circulating widely in our community,” the Canterbury District Health Board said.

According to the report, parents say they are living in fear of their children contracting the illness, as New Zealand’s third-largest city, Christchurch, and surrounding regions run out of vaccines. Generally, children are eligible for their first measles shot when they are 12 months old, meaning babies especially vulnerable to contracting the disease.

The report says measles cases are rising globally, including in wealthy nations such as the US and Germany, where some parents shun the vaccines mostly for philosophical or religious reasons, or concerns, debunked by medical science, that the vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) could cause autism.

A number of measles outbreaks have occurred in New Zealand in the last few years, but the current Canterbury outbreak is significant and spreading quickly. “Unimmunised people who come within two metres of an infectious person, however briefly, have a 90% chance of contracting measles,” the Canterbury District Health Board is quoted in the report as saying.

Media and social media websites such as Facebook have been asked to monitor their coverage of measles, to ensure only accurate advice and information is published.

The report says health experts are concerned that the Canterbury outbreak is the tip of the iceberg in New Zealand, and further outbreaks in different parts of the country are expected as the year progresses. The first case of measles was recorded in Canterbury in February. An extra 3,000 doses of the vaccine are slated to arrive in the region on Sunday, followed by a further 18,000 mid-week. In total, 100,000 are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

The report says the latest outbreak came from people who were thought not to be fully immunised. People are considered immune if they have received two doses of the MMR vaccine, have had a measles illness previously, or were born before 1969. New Zealand’s ministry of health said that since 2012 all cases of measles in New Zealand came from travellers bringing the disease from overseas.

The Guardian report

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