Immunisation only sure way to avoid measles | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

Immunisation only sure way to avoid measles

With the number of confirmed cases of measles in Canterbury now at twenty-five and likely to rise, it is clear that measles is circulating in New Zealand, meaning it is only a matter of time before it arrives in Northland.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in humans, and under-immunised people who come within two metres of an infectious person, however briefly, have a 90 percent chance of contracting measles.

“Measles is a serious, highly infectious, potentially life-threatening disease, and immunisation is the only sure way to avoid getting measles,” says Dr José M Ortega, Medical Officer of Health. 

“Only people who were born before 1969 or have had two MMR vaccinations are considered fully protected.  Those aged between 29 and 50 will only have had one measles vaccination and are not considered immune. Modelling suggests those aged 14 to 37 years of age are most susceptible to contracting measles.”

Under-immunised people exposed to measles first develop a respiratory type illness with dry cough or runny nose or conjunctivitis and a temperature over 38.5 C and a rash. People are considered infectious from 5 days before, until 5 days after, the rash first appears.

Up to 30 percent will develop complications – usually children under five. Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature labour and low birth-weight in babies.

The best protection is for people born after 1969 is to have had two MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations. If you are not sure if you have had two doses of the MMR vaccine, check with your usual general practice, or look in your Well Child book, or ask your parents. All New Zealanders are eligible to two free doses of MMR.

“The MMR vaccine is very effective protection, and we should see this as an opportunity for us all to make sure we are up to date with our vaccinations,” says Dr Ortega.

Babies whose mother is immune will have some protection if they are currently being breastfed. For children who are too young to have had both MMRs or who cannot be immunised for other reasons, the best way to protect them is to ensure everyone around them has been vaccinated – if you can’t get it, you can’t pass it on.

“If you think you may have been exposed to measles and you are not immune or have symptoms, you should not go to the ED or after hours’ clinic or general practitioner.  Instead, you will be asked to self-quarantine for up to 14 days after exposure, and call your general pracitce or Healthline free on 0800 611 116 for advice.”

More information about measles is available at link) and link).

Measles Fact Sheet

  • Measles is a highly infectious viral illness spread by contact with respiratory secretions through coughing and sneezing
  • Symptoms of measles include: 
    • A respiratory type of illness with dry cough, runny nose, headache
    • Temperature over 38.5 C and feeling very unwell
    • A red blotchy rash starts on day 4-5 of the illness usually on the face and moves to the chest and arms.
  • People are infectious from five days before the onset of the rash to five days after the rash starts.
  • Infected persons should stay in isolation – staying home from school or work – during this time.
  • The best protection from measles is to have two MMR vaccinations. MMR is available from your general practice and is free to eligible persons.
  • People are considered immune if they have received two doses of MMR vaccine, have had a measles illness previously, or were born before 1969.
  • Anyone believing they have been exposed to measles or exhibiting symptoms, should not go to the ED or after hours’ clinic or general practitioner. Instead call Healthline free on 0800 611 116 for advice and information from a trusted registered nurse, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How you get it 

Measles virus is highly contagious. It is spread through the air by infected droplets or by direct contact with secretions from the nose or throat of infected persons, for example by touching contaminated items or surfaces. It can survive for up to two hours in the air. A person with measles is most contagious from when symptoms start until three to four days after the rash appears. 

Anyone who has not received at least one dose of a measles-containing vaccine or who has not already had the disease is at risk of catching measles. 

Symptoms and treatment 

It usually takes 10-12 days from exposure to the first symptom. The illness begins with fever, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes), which lasts for 2-4 days. It may be possible to see small white spots (Koplik spots) inside the mouth. A rash appears 2-4 days after the first symptoms, beginning at the hairline and gradually spreading down the body to the arms and legs. The rash lasts for up to one week. 

There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles.  Supportive care including rest, good nutrition, vitamin A supplements, painkillers and adequate fluid intake, including hospital care when needed, can help to manage severe complications.




For further information, please contact:

Paula Martin, Communications Officer

Phone 09 4304101 extn 60519 

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