Seventeen people have been admitted to Tauranga Hospital with measles since the beginning of the year.

The Ministry of Health declared confirmed measles cases hit 975 nationwide yesterday and an outbreak festers in Auckland, with 812 cases since January 1.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board clinical nurse specialist infection prevention and control Robyn Boyne said two of the 17 local cases were aged under 1, five were under 18 and the rest were adults.

The people were admitted between January and August, she said.

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Some of them were "very sick", including some who needed treatment in the hospital's intensive care unit.

''Measles is a potentially dangerous disease that can cause deaths," Boyne said.

Dr Phil Shoemack, Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health, said there had been a "significant" number of cases for the region since the beginning of the year.

Since January 1, there had been 28 cases of measles in the Western Bay of Plenty, two cases in Rotorua and five in Taupō.

Of these 35 cases, none was currently infectious, he said.

There had been no admissions at Whakatāne or Rotorua hospitals but one person was admitted to Taupō Hospital for a short time during the April outbreak, Shoemack said.

It was not possible to get an accurate count of how many people were vaccinated for a number of reasons, he said.

Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health Dr Phil Shoemack. Photo / File
Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health Dr Phil Shoemack. Photo / File

Most cases were adults and were not registered on the National Immunisation Register, which began in 2005, or it was not possible to obtain accurate vaccination records despite the efforts of patients and hospital staff.

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Some cases were visitors to New Zealand and knowledge of their infection only arose after they left the country.

He said this generation was "lucky" to have access to vaccines and he was not aware of any shortage of the MMR vaccine in the region.

"We don't see childhood diseases because of the effectiveness of vaccinations and tend to forget how serious these childhood illnesses are.

"We don't take them as seriously as our parents [did]."

Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation co-chair and 5th Avenue Family Practice GP Dr Luke Bradford. Photo / File
Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation co-chair and 5th Avenue Family Practice GP Dr Luke Bradford. Photo / File

Dr Luke Bradford, from 5th Avenue Family Practice in Tauranga, said there had been an increase in people coming into the clinic to ask about vaccinations and the warning signs.

Bradford, who is also the co-chair of the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation, had not encountered any measles cases since April but said the Ministry of Health's response to the outbreak indicated how serious the situation was.

"It's horrifically infectious. If it comes this way it will be yucky."

Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation co-chair and Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley. Photo / File
Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation co-chair and Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley. Photo / File

Western Bay PHO co-chair Paora Stanley said there was a correlation between the measles outbreak being centred in South Auckland and the "vulnerable population" that lived there.

Stanley, who is also Ngāi Te Rangi's chief executive, said there were some people who chose not to vaccinate, while others faced barriers, including poverty and access to getting health care.

He said there were plans to get the iwi's mobile health clinic up and running within the next three weeks to help vaccinate more people.

About measles

• Measles is a highly infectious viral illness and 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.

• Measles can be serious with around one in 10 people who get measles needing to be hospitalised.

• Early symptoms include a fever, runny nose, sore red eyes and cough.

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

• Anyone who thinks they have measles should stay home and call their doctor or Healthline to arrange an assessment, to avoid putting anyone else at risk.

• Anyone who thinks they have been exposed to measles or is exhibiting symptoms should not go to the emergency department or after hours' clinic or general practitioner. Instead, call your GP any time, 24/7 for free health advice.

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