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Measles: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

On the 26th of September 2023 Te Whatu Ora confirmed a second case of measles in Auckland in a week. The cases are unrelated, but both are linked to recent overseas travel. The person was as the following hospitals:

North Shore Hospital emergency department – night of 22 September

Waitakere Hospital emergency department – night of 24 September

Measles is an incredibly infectious viral illness which can have serious complications for children and adults. In this article we will cover the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of measles.

View Te Whatu Ora Media Statement.



Measles begins with a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) and will eventually spread to other parts of the body. The initial symptoms of measles include fever, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, sore and watery pink eyes. From three to seven days after the first symptoms as the virus spreads throughout the body, infected people will develop a blotchy rash beginning on the head and spreading to other parts of the body.

Measles is a highly contagious virus which spreads easily through the air in infected droplets which are a by-product of an infected person sneezing or coughing. The virus can stay in the air for two hours after an infected person has left the area. It can also be spread on contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with an infected person’s snot or saliva. The virus can survive on surfaces for up to two hours. An unvaccinated person who is exposed to the measles virus has up to a 90% chance of becoming infected. One person with measles can spread the disease on to 12-18 people who are not immune.

Immunisation has been the primary way to prevent measles in New Zealand since 1969. The vaccine available today is called the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. For the vaccine to be effective two doses are required, providing 99% protection against measles. It is a free vaccine and is part of the childhood immunization schedule for children at 12 and 15 months of age. If you are unsure if you have been vaccinated against measles, you are recommended to get vaccinated. It’s safe to get an extra dose.

Adults born before 1969 are considered immune to measles.

If you suspect you may have measles or have been exposed to measles, contact a healthcare professional. While measles doesn’t have a specific treatment your doctor will likely recommend you get rest and some options for symptom relief.  This may include:

  • Pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen,
  • drinking plenty of water or rehydration sachets,
  • vitamin A supplements.

If you are not immune and exposed to the virus a measles vaccine, given within 72 hours of exposure may provide protection, or lessen the severity of an infection. This may help to limit the spread of the virus as well.

Most people will recover from measles after 7 to 12 days. However complications can occur. In the 2019 outbreak in New Zealand, over 30% of people infected with measles were admitted to hospital. These complications can include:

  • pneumonia (the cause of most dealths from measles),
  • ear infections,
  • diarrhoea (risk of dehydration),
  • febrile seizures (fits that occur in young children triggered by high temperatures >38.3°C),
  • Encephalitis (brain inflammation)

Encephalitis occurs in around 1 in 1000 measles cases.

If your or a loved one are experiencing the following symptoms, please contact your doctor or seek urgent medical care*:

If you or your child:

  • have trouble breathing,
  • have a stiff neck,
  • feel drowsy or cannot be woken up,
  • are coughing up green or yellow thick mucous,
  • experience backpain,
  • have sore ears,
  • have a fit (seizure),
  • do not pee for 10 hours.

For your child if:

  • they become floppy, very drowsy or are difficult to wake,
  • their breathing becomes very fast or noisy,
  • they become very pale or have blue lips or gums.

Always call first if you need to visit a medical practice or hospital.

Source: Healthify He Puna Waiora







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