If I didn't have this column, I would have been writing a letter to the editor this week as "Outraged of Grey Lynn".

The news that hundreds have been exposed to measles because some selfish git chose to ignore an order to stay home really riled me. But what sent me thermonuclear was the response to it.

The man, identity unknown, arrived on a flight from China late January. Apparently, he contracted measles from another passenger. As it is a notifiable disease, public health officials tracked him down and warned him to stay home until he was no longer infectious.

However, just hours later Measles Man went to SkyCity Casino for several hours. He used communal areas and rode the lifts in the Sugar Tree Apartments where he was staying.


Auckland Medical Officer of Health Richard Hoskins couldn't explain why the man ignored the quarantine order but he had conveyed his disappointment to him. When asked if he would be prosecuted, Hoskins went all Hippocratic and clambered on to the moral high ground.

He said the department wasn't a prosecuting type and as it had never gone down the path of prosecuting people before, he'd be surprised if it did this time.

Besides, the department was too busy managing the potential measles outbreak to worry about taking legal action.

That is one of the limpest responses I've heard from a public official in years. Disappointed? Really? Imagine if you were one of the hundreds exposed to the disease by Measles Man. A casino worker, say, or a pregnant woman in the lift in Sugar Tree Apartments.

You might feel a little more litigious than Hoskins if you contracted the disease and ended up permanently physically impaired.

Measles is a nasty disease. That's why we're immunised against it. About one in 10 people end up in hospital with measles and a third of those develop complications such as hearing loss, pneumonia, seizures or swelling of the brain.

Complications are especially common among children under 5 and adults over 20. It's easy to get, too. The virus is spread through sneezing, coughing - even breathing. I can't understand how someone could be so selfish.

I remember years ago heading with a group to Italy. One of the party had a dreadful cold - possibly it was the flu. He was feverish and when he coughed, you could almost see the microbes landing on us all, trapped in our aircraft.

I accept when you've paid for the trip of a lifetime, you'd be reluctant to cancel because of a stinking cold. But one man ruined the holidays of about 10 people. Maybe if travel insurers were more understanding, people would do the decent thing and stay home.

Closer to home, Grey Lynn has only recently had an order lifted preventing residents taking fruit out of a certain zone. The Queensland fruit fly discovery in the neighbourhood meant for close to a year we had Maf spraying our fruit trees and we were unable to take fruit to work or school if it was outside a designated area.

And people complied. Nobody wanted to be responsible for decimating our fruit exports. How could you live with yourself if your apple or mandarin carried fruit fly to the rest of the country?

Clearly, however, we can't appeal to people's better natures. The concept of the public good trumping individual rights appears to have been lost.

Which is why we need a stroppy, stick-waving medical officer of health. A prosecution or two might just drive home the fact public safety is more important than an individual's desire to play the pokies.

Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays, noon-4pm.