School nurses are being trained for a vaccination programme in South Auckland and extra staff have been called in at Middlemore Hospital and outreach clinics in the battle to contain the measles outbreak.

The number of cases nationwide has topped 900. Well over half are in Auckland, and Counties Manukau in particular where 520 cases have been confirmed.

The outbreak, the worst in 22 years, has become so bad that authorities have warned parents not to take children to Auckland without being vaccinated first.

Schools are telling students to stay home and some sports competitions have been cancelled.

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As a result the Ministry is ramping up it's response to the outbreak which started in January.

"Despite an additional 57,000 MRR vaccines administered in the last six months, New Zealand has not escaped the outbreak of measles occurring globally," said Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.

"I want to reassure the public that co-ordinating the response to the measles outbreak will be a top priority for the Ministry of Health in the coming days."

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about measles

The Ministry yesterday activated the National Health Coordination Centre to coordinate the disease response in Auckland, and monitor the situation in the rest of New Zealand.

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter says co-ordinating the response to the measles outbreak will be a top priority for the Ministry of Health. Photo / File
Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter says co-ordinating the response to the measles outbreak will be a top priority for the Ministry of Health. Photo / File

Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said the NHCC is only activated when there are "significant events happening in the health sector".

She said infected people could get brain inflammations which could have long-lasting health effects, such as hearing problems. In rare cases measles can cause death.

Genter urged people to get vaccinated – specifically children - and said resources were being made available to help with this.

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"Counties Manukau DHB will be training 25 school nurses for a programme covering 34 high schools including alternative education and teen parent units,"

"The additional five vaccination nurses have been deployed to provide extra free services in Middlemore hospital and other outreach centres in South Auckland."

Carmel Ellis, the head of Child, Youth and Maternity at Counties Manukau Health, said there would be a slightly different approach at Manurewa High School - the epicentre of the outbreak.

Public health nurses would go to the school on Tuesday to vaccinate staff and students.

Half of the school's 2000 students were absent on Thursday.

Principal Pete Jones said there were 10 confirmed measles cases and four more pending as of Thursday. As a result of half of the 2000 students were told to stay at home.

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter is urging people to get vaccinated if they aren't already. Photo / 123RF
Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter is urging people to get vaccinated if they aren't already. Photo / 123RF

Counties Manukau DHB has also opened three outreach centres in South Auckland where people can go to get free MMR vaccinations over the weekend.

Fears of continued spread of the highly-contagious viral illness prompted the New Zealand's secondary schools rugby league competition, due to be played in South Auckland next week, to be cancelled.

New Zealand Rugby League scrapped the tournament after seeking medical advice, chief executive Greg Peters said.

"We understand people may be disappointed by our decision and we apologise for any inconvenience caused; however, the welfare of our players and all involved in the tournament comes first."

Several South Auckland schools have also asked unvaccinated children to stay home. Around 1000 children were away from one school on Thursday alone.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

-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.

-More information on the virus is available here.

OUTREACH CLINICS FOR FREE VACCINATIONS

- Free Church of Tonga, Mangere, Saturday August 31, 9am-3pm

- Middlemore Hospital Emergency Department, Manukau, Daily

- Clendon Public Nursing Office, Clendon Shopping Centre, Manurewa, Daily, 9.30am-3pm