In an open letter to New Zealanders, Starship Children's Hospital head Dr Mike Shepherd pleads with every Kiwi to help save lives amid the measles epidemic.

Much of the news is about events being cancelled and other community concerns, however what we are currently seeing in the hospital is serious harm caused by measles.

We see parents and whānau sick with worry when their children have the first signs of an illness that might be measles.

We see the extra treatment required to keep our most vulnerable patients safe because we now have measles is in our community. Starship treats thousands of children with serious medical conditions like cancer or heart transplants, these patients could easily die from measles infection.

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When there is measles around we have to treat them more aggressively and often have to keep them in isolation from their friends and family.

We see critically unwell children with measles, pneumonia and brain infection caused by measles on our wards and in our intensive care unit. It is very difficult to see children suffering from an entirely preventable illness.

Right now our children and vulnerable friends and relatives are in danger from measles.

I am extremely concerned about measles in New Zealand. I am concerned because children are becoming very unwell from measles and some children are likely to die because of complications due to measles.

Starship Hospital clinical director Dr Mike Shepherd says measles should be in our past, not a threat to our children's future. Photo / Michael Craig
Starship Hospital clinical director Dr Mike Shepherd says measles should be in our past, not a threat to our children's future. Photo / Michael Craig

I really hope that today's Herald on Sunday, and other information available to New Zealanders, will inspire us to work together to eliminate the threat of measles.

We can do this. When it comes to measles we have a highly effective and extremely safe vaccine which prevents this infection. The vaccine means measles can and should be eradicated from our shores.

Measles is an incredibly infectious viral infection, one of the most infectious organisms on the planet. People can be infected by entering a room where someone with measles has coughed several hours earlier. People with measles are infectious for several days before they get a rash.

Measles can be very dangerous. While many adults who get measles will have an illness somewhat like the flu, however one in 20 children will get serious pneumonia and around one child in 300 will get a life-threatening illness or die.

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We don't have a treatment for measles — once you or your child get sick with measles, the illness has to run its course. We can only help by treating complications, which can be life threatening.

If you're unsure whether you're vaccinated, get another jab done. It won't do any harm, says Startship Hospital clinical director Dr Mike Shepherd. Photo / File
If you're unsure whether you're vaccinated, get another jab done. It won't do any harm, says Startship Hospital clinical director Dr Mike Shepherd. Photo / File

Please get vaccinated, and make sure your children and other whānau are vaccinated. We have an effective and incredibly safe vaccine.

You can be vaccinated for free at any GP.

Don't assume you are immune — anyone between 12 months and 50 years of age needs to check their immunisation. Find your records, your "Plunket book" or check in with your doctor.

If you are not sure, or can't find your records, get vaccinated — it will not hurt you to have another dose of the MMR vaccine, it will protect you and your community.

Help your community, the best way we can look after our most at risk New Zealanders to ensure that everyone who can be, is vaccinated. Check your team, check your whānau.

Remember the first symptoms are not a rash, they are cough, runny nose, and bloodshot and watery eyes and feeling unwell. If you are taking someone with possible measles to the doctor, please call ahead.

Please help. Measles should be a story of the past, not something threatening our children's lives.