Latest numbers:

• More than 850 cases of measles have been reported this year - despite an additional 57,000 MRR vaccines administered in the past six months - making it New Zealand's worst measles epidemic in at least 22 years.

• The latest figures show, as at Friday afternoon, there had been 759 confirmed cases of measles in Auckland this year - 108 within Auckland DHB, 131 within Waitemata DHB and 520 in Counties Manukau DHB.

• More than 20 Auckland secondary schools have been notified after a student has been found to have measles after attending a school ball on Saturday night.

What is measles?

Measles is a viral illness that causes a skin rash and fever. It is very contagious.

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What are the symptoms of measles?

Symptoms usually begin to show about 10 to 14 days after infection with the virus.

The illness begins with fever, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes), which lasts for 2-4 days.

It may be possible to see small white spots (Koplik spots) inside the mouth.

A seven-month-old baby with measles. Photo / Supplied
A seven-month-old baby with measles. Photo / Supplied

A rash appears 2-4 days after the first symptoms, beginning at the hairline and gradually spreading down the body to the arms and legs. The rash lasts for up to one week.

You can have measles and spread it to others before you feel sick or show any symptoms.

How does measles spread?

The virus spreads easily through the air by sneezing or coughing. It can also be spread by contact with surfaces contaminated with an infected person's nose and throat secretions.

Measles can also be caught by breathing the same air as an infected person, such as sitting next to them on the bus. The virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.

How long will it be before I know if I've caught measles?

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

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If you have been near someone with measles, and don't know if you're immune, seek medical advice immediately and remain in quarantine at home.

What to do if you have measles?

If you catch measles, you should stay at home (isolation) for five days after your rash appears. This means you can recover, and you also won't spread the illness.

Do not go to work, school, preschool, group or social activities, sports, or public places like movie theatres, shopping malls, supermarkets, other food markets and cafes.

Source / Supplied
Source / Supplied

Do not use public transport or visit friends or family. Avoid being in the same room as people who are not immune to measles.

You can spread measles to others from five days before until five days after your rash appears.

If you are concerned about measles, call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or call your GP.

Please do not just turn up to your GP, after hours or emergency department as you could potentially infect others.

How serious is measles?

Measles can cause serious complications including diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain), or, in rare cases, death.

About 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment.

It is especially dangerous for pregnant women who are not immune, babies and people with weakened immune systems.

Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, early labour and low birth-weight babies.

The risk of complications and death is greater in children under 5 years and adults over 20 years of age.

How can I protect myself and my family against measles?

The best protection against measles is to be vaccinated with two doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.

One dose of MMR will protect around 95 per cent of people, while two doses protect around 99 per cent of people.

One dose of MMR will protect around 95 per cent of people, while two doses protect around 99 per cent of people. Photo / File
One dose of MMR will protect around 95 per cent of people, while two doses protect around 99 per cent of people. Photo / File

It can take around two weeks for a person to be fully immune after being vaccinated.

The MMR shot is free for anyone under 50 who has not had two documented doses. It is available nationwide at any general practice clinic.

What age should children get vaccinated?

All 1-year-old children in Counties Manukau, Auckland and Waitemata DHBs should receive their first MMR early to protect them from measles.

The 15-month immunisations, which include MMR, have been brought forward to age 12 months in this region.

During a measles outbreak, babies as young as 6 months can be immunised.

The risk of catching measles is lower for the rest of New Zealand so the normal immunisation schedule should be maintained with MMR given at 15 months and 4 years.

In Auckland and everywhere else, older children and adults aged up to 50 years who have no documented evidence of vaccination against measles are recommended to get vaccinated.

I'm not sure if I've been vaccinated. What should I do?

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 you can't find your records, vaccination is recommended.

Is anyone immune from measles?

People develop immunity to measles, mumps and rubella either by catching the disease or being vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Source: Environmental Science and Research (ESR), New Zealand Public Health Surveillance Report.
Source: Environmental Science and Research (ESR), New Zealand Public Health Surveillance Report.

Adults aged 50 or older (born in New Zealand before 1969) are generally considered to be immune as there was no measles-containing vaccine until 1969. Before 1969, almost everyone caught the disease as a child.

If you have previously been diagnosed with measles. Once you have recovered from measles, your body is protected from future illness.

What to do if you are travelling to Auckland or overseas?

Babies aged 12 to 14 months who are travelling to Auckland or overseas should receive all four 15-month vaccinations (MMR, varicella, Hib and PCV10) at least two weeks before travelling to allow their immunity against measles to develop.

Infants aged 6 months or older travelling to countries with serious measles outbreaks should be given MMR vaccine before their travel. This is an additional vaccination for these infants – they will still need their usual MMR vaccinations at 12-15 months and 4 years old.

The Ministry of Health advises people travelling overseas to make sure they are fully vaccinated before they go. Measles is regularly brought into the New Zealand through international travel.

Is vaccination compulsory?

Vaccination is not compulsory in New Zealand but it is a good choice. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

The risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small – and the vaccine is considerably safer than getting measles.

France and Poland both have mandatory vaccinations.

When was the last outbreak of measles in New Zealand?

The last two major measles epidemics in New Zealand occurred in the 1990s, with thousands of cases, hundreds of hospitalisations and seven deaths.

Smaller outbreaks continue to occur, started when someone brings the disease back from an overseas trip.

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

Free phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 or visit:

• The Ministry of Health website – www.health.govt.nz
• The Auckland Regional Public Health Service website – www.arphs.health.nz
• The Immunisation Advisory Centre website – www.immune.org.nz (or free phone 0800 466 863)