Non-urgent travel to New Zealand should be avoided, and parents need to take particular care of babies under 12 months, who are not yet immunised.
Dr Teuila Percival, an expert in Pacific health at Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland, said the people worst affected by the city’s measles outbreak were young Pasifika adults: half the confirmed cases were Samoans, Tongans and Cook Islanders.
Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman attended the baby show in Rarotonga yesterday, to personally get the message across to mums and dads.
Babies here are protected by Cook Islands’ high MMR vaccination rates, and the community’s “herd immunity”, she said. Basically, the fact that adults and older children are immunised helps keep vulnerable babies safe too.
But parents are warned to avoid letting their babies come into contact with anyone who has been exposed to measles or travelled here from New Zealand.
Dr Herman told Cook Islands News last night that authorities would take precautions at the airport against travellers arriving with measles symptoms.
“Because of the outbreak in New Zealand, people need to be careful if they travel there,” she said. “And we are on standby for anyone coming in Cook Islands bringing it from New Zealand.
“I heard from New Zealand today that half the 750 cases diagnoses have been admitted to hospital, which is having a big impact on their hospital system.
It was a healthy reminder of the importance of immunisation. “Absolutely. “There’s no two ways about it.”
Despite putting precautions in place at the airport, Dr Teuila Percival said it would be impossible to stop the disease spreading to Pacific islands – all authorities could do was try to manage it.
On Thursday, she said, a passenger with measles had travelled to Auckland from Samoa on an Air New Zealand flight – and the passenger had no idea they were infected.
New Zealand’s associate health minister Julie Anne Genter says she is “very concerned” at the rising number of cases, particularly those of young Pacific Islanders from south Auckland.
Community Health Services director Dr Tereapii Uka said the ministry was closely monitoring cases of measles reported in New Zealand and Australia, but due to these islands’ high immunisation rates the country had nothing to fear.
The World Health Organisation reports the first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.
After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about 3 days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of 7 to 18 days).
The World Health Organisation says young children are at highest risk of measles, which can kill. Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at particular risk.