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Have you been reading the news, watching the number of those infected by measles slowly climb and dreading you might catch the illness?

Were you born between 1969 and 1992? You might be at a greater risk than you thought.

An outbreak of the disease in Canterbury has risen to at least 25 people infected, with the number likely to rise in the coming days.

The outbreak started about two weeks ago, with vaccine supplies meant to last a month being used up in two days.

Now, the Canterbury District Health Board is racing to get vulnerable people in the region vaccinated.

The DHB said under-immunised people who came within two metres of an infectious person, however briefly, had a 90 per cent chance of contracting measles.

It said the best protection from the disease was for people to have two doses (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations.

But it was standard practice between 1969 and 1990 for doctors to give just one, leaving a number of people at risk.

To help answer some questions you might have about measles, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service has some answers so you can learn more.

What do I do if I haven’t been immunised against measles?

You can be immunised at any time if you have missed your two vaccinations. Many adolescents aren’t fully protected, and many people born after 1969 and before 1992 will have received only one MMR vaccine. These people are entitled to the second MMR dose free of charge. Practice nurse fees may apply.

Is measles a current concern?

Yes. There are currently measles outbreaks all over the world, including here in New Zealand. There has been one case in Auckland and there are currently a number of cases in Canterbury.

How serious is measles?

Measles is a serious illness. One in 10 people with measles need hospital treatment and the most serious cases can result in deafness or swelling of the brain.

Measles is one of the most infectious airborne diseases and a person is contagious before the rash appears. It is very easily transmitted from one person to another, possibly by being in a room where an infected person has been.

I’m about to travel to a country that has a measles outbreak. What should I do?

The Ministry of Health is advising anyone travelling overseas to be up to date with their MMR vaccinations. In addition, the Ministry recommends that infants aged 6-15 months travelling to countries where there is a current measles outbreak be given MMR vaccine before they travel. This is an additional vaccination for those infants – they will still need their usual MMR vaccinations at 15 months and four years old.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, cough and sore red eyes, followed by a rash starting behind the ears and spreading to the body a few days later.

How can I protect myself and my family against measles?

The best way to prevent measles is to be immunised on time, with two free MMR vaccinations for all children at 15 months and four years. Two doses of MMR vaccine are at least 97 per cent effective in preventing measles.

What does MMR stand for?

MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella, as the MMR vaccine provides protection against all three of these illnesses.

What do I do if I’ve only had one of the two MMR vaccine doses?

If you’ve only had one dose, you are entitled to a second one free of charge. Practice nurse fees may apply.

I don’t know whether I’ve been immunised or not. What should I do?

If you are not sure how many doses you have had, talk to your doctor as the information may be in your medical records. You may also have your own health records e.g. your Plunket or Well Child/Tamariki Ora book. If it’s unclear whether you are immune, or whether you’ve had two doses, vaccination is recommended. Check with your GP first as in some instances, such as pregnancy, you should not be immunised.

If I’ve been in contact with someone with measles, how long will it be before I know if I’ve caught it?

It usually takes 10 to 14 days for someone who has caught measles to start showing symptoms.

Are there sufficient supplies of MMR vaccine?

Auckland Regional Public Health Service isn’t aware of any vaccine supply concerns for the Auckland region.

Where can I seek advice or find out more about measles?

For more information or advice on measles, please call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or see the Ministry of Health’s measles page.

Source: NZ Herald

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