'Community effort' needed to beat measles outbreak - Starship Hospital doctor

The clinical director of Starship Hospital is pleading with parents to help stop other more-vulnerable children dying from measles.

Staff at Starship are working around the clock to save the lives of children and babies who are suffering from the complications of measles.

"They have lung disease, they have brain infection or inflammation, and we're trying hard to make sure that they do well from that," says Starship's Dr Mike Shepherd.

There are seven children in hospital in Auckland - one of them is critical.

Dr Shepherd fears if the outbreaks continue, there will be deaths.

"I think it's clear that some of the cases that we've already had through our intensive care units would have died 20 or 30 years ago without the intensive treatment that we've been able to provide."

People who have weakened immune systems have a much higher risk of death, and Dr Shepherd is calling for parents to get their children vaccinated for the sake of others who are more vulnerable.

"It's really doing this as a community effort because I think we are working hard to try and stop people dying of measles."

The total number of cases across the country since the start of the year is now 991, with 821 in Auckland. Counties-Manukau is the worst affected.

Babies in Auckland are now encouraged to get their first MMR at 12 months. Anyone under 50 who is unsure if they're immune is urged to get vaccinated.  

"Our advice from Pharmac is that there are enough vaccines available to support current efforts," says Dr William Rainger, Auckland Medical Officer of Health.

"New Zealand normally uses around 12,000 doses per month, yesterday 9000 were distributed in a day. The Ministry of Health says some clinics may be experiencing delays due to the increased demand, but there's no shortage."

Counties Manukau Health has been criticised for not offering an MMR vaccine 'catch-up' at schools during a mumps outbreak last year.

"The advice was to continue watching the numbers and if it did get to a certain level we would then activate a school programme, what we did see was that our numbers decreased so we didn't need to go in to do a catch-up programme at the time," says Carmel Ellis, of the Counties-Manukau District Health Board.

They are playing catch-up now, but say that would probably have happened anyway.

Meanwhile, at St Peter's College students who attended the school ball on Saturday are being asked to go into quarantine until next Saturday if they're not immunised.  

A female guest who attended the event at the Pullman Hotel has since been confirmed as having the disease.


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