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Measles - Information for the public

Measles is present in a number of countries overseas and occasionally causes outbreaks in New Zealand.

What is measles?

  • Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that can be serious. 

  • It is spread from person to person through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing. Just being in the same room as someone with measles can lead to infection if you are not immune.

Who is at risk of measles infection?
People are at risk of getting measles if they are not immune to measles. People who are regarded as not immune to measles are:

  • People born after 01 January 1969 who have not had two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

  • Infants under the age of 15 months who have not received their first routine dose of MMR vaccine at 15 months old.  They are susceptible and rely on everyone else to be immune so that measles does not spread to them.

  • Children over 4 years who have not received their second dose of MMR.

What should you do?

  • Ensure you are up to date with your immunisations.

  • If you are not immune it is important to be aware of the symptoms of measles.  The early symptoms of measles are fever, runny nose, sore red eyes and cough.

  • After 3 to 5 days a red, blotchy rash appears on the face and head and then spreads down the body.

If you develop symptoms of measles:

  • Stay at home and away from public places (such as sports events, gatherings, parties, school, work, child care, shopping centres, public transport and so on).

  • See your doctor as soon as possible so a diagnosis can be confirmed.  However, phone the surgery ahead to alert them of your symptoms and to allow them to make arrangements to assess you safely and without infecting other people.

  • If you are unable to visit your GP phone Healthline on 0800 611 116.

For further information visit Toi Te Ora Public Health: or call on 0800 221 555 and ask to speak to the on call Health Protection Officer.


Information for contacts of measles cases

If you have been told by a doctor, nurse or public health worker that you are a contact of a case of measles, this information is for you -

Measles information sheet for contacts

Measles is among the most dangerous of the vaccine preventable diseases, and remains a leading cause of childhood mortality worldwide.  It is highly infectious from the onset of early symptoms (such as fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes) until four days after the measles rash appears.

Thirty percent of reported cases of measles experience one or more complications.  These include diarrhoea (6%), ear infections (7%), and pneumonia (6%).  One in 1000 cases develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), 15% of these cases die and approximately one third are left with permanent brain damage.  One in 100,000 cases will, years later, develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a serious brain inflammation.  This serious complication is always fatal.  Death occurs in approximately 1-2 per 1,000 reported cases of measles overall in western countries.

Immunisation given on time is the best way to prevent measles.  Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is 99% effective in preventing measles.  The first dose of MMR vaccine is usually given at 15 months of age and the second dose at four years of age.

Immunity to vaccine preventable diseases is not good in our community due to years of relatively low vaccination rates.  A significant outbreak of measles is quite possible with a real risk of some children experiencing severe illness which may occasionally result in long-term health problems or even death.

Most people born before 1969 will be immune because measles used to be quite common.  Everyone else should check that they are up to date with their vaccinations.  It is never too late to catch up.

GPs will remind the parents of children who are behind with their MMR vaccinations, but if you know that your child is not up to date with their immunisations do get in touch with your GP and make an appointment.

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