A three-month old baby girl is in quarantine in Rarotonga, under monitoring for any symptoms of measles.
The Public Health Nursing team have been visiting the couple daily, says the Secretary for Health. Dr Josephine Aumea Herman said the parents and their baby returned home from Auckland last week.
They had been resisting instructions, she told RNZ: “They are not fully understanding the importance of quarantine.”
The baby was so small she hadn’t been immunised, so doctors have given her immunoglobulin to provide her antibodies to fight the disease.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health alerted Cook Islands authorities to the family’s arrival at Rarotonga International Airport, Dr Herman told Cook Islands News last night. The family had been living in Auckland when another child in their home developed full-blown measles.
They remained optimistic the family would not develop measles – that the immunoglobulin would enable the baby to fight it off. The little girl’s mum was fully immunised, she said, but the dad had only one MMR vaccine jab. “We’re monitoring very closely for any sign of measles, fever or rash, in the child. If that should develop, we’re going to have to move very quickly to contain it.”
It would be five more days before they were out of the woods.
Dr Herman said the Ministry of Health would be testing its new Health Emergency Operations Centre today, in readiness for cyclone season – or a measles outbreak.
“I think we’re better prepared than we were, but the babies that we see dying overseas are suffering severe respiratory distress,” she said. “We do not have the capacity to provide for that – these babies when they get sick go downhill very quickly, and that’s what’s frightening.”
She reminded Cook Islanders of the importance of immunisation, which is all that has saved Cook Islands from the same fate as New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa. “From the number of deaths we’ve seen in Samoa, this is not the time to be complacent about vaccination,” she said.
Private practitioners in Rarotonga are hoping there is no outbreak of measles in the Cook Islands.
Dr Teariki Noovao and Dr Tamarua Herman said they were hoping and praying, and following the media closely due to the measles deaths in Samoa.
The Ministry of Health has prepared isolation beds and vaccinations and notices at the airport since New Zealand declared a measles outbreak. Because of the high numbers of migrant labourers, Dr Herman said they had instituted new checkboxes on traveller arrival forms to ensure visitors and new residents were immunised.
“There’s no reason why measles can’t come here,” Dr Herman told RNZ. “We have 20 flights a week from Auckland.”
As of November 12, there have been 2033 confirmed cases of measles notified across New Zealand. 1645 of these confirmed cases are in the Auckland region. Measles’ acute fever and rash have been diagnosed in Australia, French Polynesia, Samoa and Tonga too.
The World Health organisation said that due to the recent outbreaks of measles in the Pacific, and as the holiday season nears, they with UNICEF are urging the public to ensure they are immunised before travelling internationally, attending other large community gatherings, and strongly encouraging parents to vaccinate their children against this serious disease.
WHO says that vaccination provides the safest and best protection against measles and recommended that 85 per cent of immunisation coverage could stop the spread of the virus.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person.
It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing and can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.