In a burst of unwelcome news late on a Friday afternoon, New Zealand media warned that “thousands” of people may have been exposed to the measles virus in Wellington over the last week, including tourists to the Rugby World Cup. According to the regional public health medical officer, Dr Annette Nesdale, people who visited a popular waterside gelato cafe and a gym at specific times between October 5-9 may have been exposed to the highly contagious virus by a man who didn’t know he was infected. Dr Nesdale told reporters efforts were underway to trace the staff at these venues, but that tracing the considerable numbers of patrons was not possible. Last weekend 35,000 fans including many visiting from overseas gathered at Wellington’s stadium to watch quater-final games of the Rugby World Cup.
This latest measles warning comes as New Zealand public health experts work to contain an outbreak which to date has mainly affected Auckland but has also spread to other areas. In Auckland about half of the people affected are over 20 years old and most were not vaccinated. Seventeen per cent have had to be hospitalised – a frightening and costly intervention. The New Zealand Ministry of Health has kept people up to date, and the most affected regions enacted new measures this week to urgently boost vaccination coverage.
New Zealand’s outbreak, its largest since 1997, started with five students who became infected on a flight from Singapore back in January. The outbreak picked up momentum in May when the virus spread to a community with lower immunization levels and to a church where parents had refused vaccination.
New Zealand health authorities are warning everyone to be sure they are up-to-date with their immunizations. They’ll be watching Wellington closely for new cases in the days and weeks ahead.
This situation in New Zealand demonstrates the speed at which the measles virus can travel and cause costly outbreaks in an era when widespread vaccination could eliminate measles altogether.
Measles outbreaks in other countries this year including Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are having a deadly impact on people there, and measles vaccination campaigns will make a huge difference. For more on the global effort to eliminate measles and actions you can take to stop this disease, visit www.measlesinitiative.org.