Auckland hospital sets up measles ward as rapid increase of cases prompts warnings of looming epidemic

The number of measles cases is rapidly increasing in Auckland, prompting warnings from health experts of a looming epidemic.

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Dr Vanessa Thornton, head of the hospital’s emergency department, joined TVNZ1’s Breakfast to explain the rise in cases. Source: Breakfast

At Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland, the pressure is so immense that it has prompted the creation of a dedicated measles ward to cope with the influx. 

It comes after a health warning was issued by a Les Mills gym in New Lynn last night after a person who attended a class there was later diagnosed with measles.

The latest tally of confirmed cases in the city is 546. Nationally, the number is 639 – the highest number since a massive outbreak occurred in 1997.

"We've had up to 400 cases across Counties Manukau of the measles, and about 40 per cent of those have presented to Middlemore Hospital," emergency department clinical director Dr Vanessa Thornton told TVNZ1's Breakfast today.

"So that is creating an extra burden on us."

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But the number of measles cases in Auckland is rapidly rising regardless. Source: 1 NEWS

The hospital currently has two measles patients in the dedicated ward, but less than a week ago there were just over 10 patients staying there, she said. 

The "main reason" for the dedicated ward, she explained, is "just to contain the spread of the illness to other patients in the hospital".

Dr Thornton said health experts are worried about the epidemic because "it's still on an upward swing at the moment in South Auckland".

"We are worried, particularly in the unimmunised patients, so particularly people who haven’t had vaccinations, and of course all babies under 15 months are not vaccinated against measles."

She explained measles is more dangerous for babies.

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Schools and health officials are on high alert as children go back to class on Monday with data showing infection is spreading much faster than the last big outbreak. Source: 1 NEWS

"A lot of the presentations have been in the paediatric population, and the second highest group of presentations is between the sort of 15- to 30-year-old age group," she said. 

She suggested anyone between the ages of one and 50 who are not vaccinated should get their vaccinations to protect themselves from getting the contagious disease and preventing its spread.

"That will help the immunity against those under one, so the herd immunity helps protect the babies under one, so we're really encouraging people to find out their vaccination status and go to their primary care provider to get a vaccination if they don’t have that at the moment."

She said there have been many reasons over the years why people have not been vaccinated for measles, including coming from "different countries where the vaccination didn't include measles at the time", and not being "particularly keen to get vaccinated".

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Dr Sash has the answers you need to know. Source: Seven Sharp

Dr Thornton said the disease "can be life-threatening", but "fortunately, we're able to manage most of the complications of measles, but it is a serious condition".

She said people who are more afraid of the vaccination than the disease should speak to a nurse or GP to better understand the purpose of the vaccination.

"Measles hasn't been around a lot recently, so I think for people who are afraid of the vaccination, it's important to go and talk to your general practitioner, or the nurse at the practice around vaccinations, to help understand how the vaccination works and how it will help them and also how it helps other people in the community, particularly the babies who are under one.

"We don't vaccinate that age group, so the rest of the people having the vaccination just assists those babies under one."