Understanding and Preventing Measles in Your Family
Measles is a nasty disease but it can be prevented at no cost to you. Learn about measles and how to protect your family from the experts from Moana Research
5 min read
Measles has been highlighted in the media in 2019, particularly in Canterbury and Auckland, and it can be prevented by getting your child or family member vaccinated/immunised. This is good news for your children’s health and the health of your whole family.
A few interesting facts about the measles
- 99% of Pacific children are fully immunised by the time they reach two years of age, with a national average of over 90%.
- Two doses of the MMR vaccine are 99% effective in preventing measles. No measles-only vaccine is available in New Zealand.
- 30% of people infected with measles can develop complications including ear infections with the potential to cause deafness (7%), diarrhoea (6%), pneumonia (6%), seizures and – in one in 1000 cases – swelling of the brain which leads to permanent brain damage about a third of the time.
So what is measles?
Measles is a very infectious disease, caused by a virus that can have life-threatening results. Measles can affect both adults and children.
Measles is extremely contagious and spreads through contact with infectious droplets from the nose or throat of an infected person (for example, if someone sneezes or if someone touches items or surfaces which someone with measles has touched).
Someone that has measles can easily pass it on to someone in the initial first 2-4 days of symptoms before the rash shows, which is called the most contagious stage. A person who may not have had measles or been immunised against measles can easily contract it and pass it on to at least 20 other people. Immunising against measles helps prevent others from contracting the disease as well as helping stop or slow down the further spread of the disease in the whole community.
Some of the signs of measles
It can take up to 10-12 days when someone has been in contact with someone who has measles for the first signs to appear. Measles often begins with a fever (high temperature), a cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes), and these symptoms can last for 2-4 days.
Sometimes you may see small white spots inside the mouth which are called Koplik spots. A rash which will begin near the head will appear 2-4 days after the first symptoms. This rash will slowly spread to the torso, then to the arms and legs, with the rash lasting for up to 7-9 days.
How to treat measles
If you find that you, your child or a family member has measles, you should to go to your nearest doctor/GP as soon as possible. Try to inform them before you go in so that they know to keep you in a separate room.
Make sure you have good hand washing practices and, when sneezing and coughing, cover your mouth and remove tissues appropriately. The best recommendations for care include eating well, taking vitamin A supplements (your doctor will provide more details on where to get this from) and drinking plenty of fluids. Where necessary, you will be referred to the hospital if there are serious complications.
Measles CAN be prevented
Contact your doctor and book an appointment to get yourself or your child immunised. If you do not have a doctor, contact the nearest doctor/GP in your community and they can enrol you and give you more information on what you need to do.
You will receive 2 injections of the measles vaccine which is delivered at different times. This will provide the most effective protection for yourself, your family and the wider community. After receiving one of the measles injections (MMR), approximately 95% of people are protected from measles. After having the second vaccine/injection, more that 99% of people are protected.
Pregnant? The MMR isn’t for you
Due to the make-up of the measles vaccine (it’s a live vaccine), it can cause mild measles, mumps or rubella infections. It is recommended not giving this vaccine/immunisation to women who are pregnant. The following people should also avoid the MMR:
- People who have a severe weakness of the immune system
- People who have a severe allergic response (anaphylaxis) to this vaccine or part of this vaccine before
- People who have had another live vaccine within the last 4 weeks
The measles vaccine is FREE for every child in New Zealand
If you’re aged 18 or over, you can still get free immunisation against measles, mumps and rubella. The vaccine is free for everyone born from 1 January 1969 onwards who haven’t already had two recorded doses. If you have never been immunised against tetanus, diphtheria or polio, then these vaccines are also free of charge.