'Doctors didn't think I was going to survive': Encephalitis sufferer's chilling warning

An Auckland woman who suffered a disease that can crop up as a complication from measles is warning others of the serious impacts the virus can cause.

Sarah Williams suffered from encephalitis, swelling of the brain, as a nine-year-old. 

"It was a really really horrific illness that the doctors didn't think I was going to survive," she says.

The sickness left her with epilepsy and memory problems, and she fears more will suffer as measles cases increase.

"The chances of some of our New Zealanders ending up with encephalitis is just increasing by the day."

Encephalitis can arise from the measles virus.

Her warning comes as one of the country's top doctors, Dr Lance O'Sullivan, is calling for tougher penalties for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children against virus such as measles.

Dr O'Sullivan wants to see higher taxes and 'no jab; no pay' policies brought in to increase immunisation rates.

He has never held back on his views around vaccination. Jumping on stage in impassioned protest at a screening of the controversial Vaxxed documentary in Northland two years ago he yelled "your presence here will cause babies to die" to the audience.

And he's now more worried than ever.

"My ideal situation in New Zealand would be that it was compulsory, unless you had a very good medical reason."

Short of that, he wants tough penalties for parents who don't vaccinate their children - resulting in benefit cuts or tax hikes.

"Simple: no jab, no pay; no jab, higher tax rate."

It's worked in Australia - a threat to cut benefits for those who did not vaccinate their children resulted in an increase of 174,000 children being immunised over the past year.

But the Prime Minister says it won't happen. Instead, the Government wants to improve vaccination rates through easier access.

Health officials are working to slow the outbreaks by encouraging vaccinations.

Public health nurses have spent the day at the hardest-hit school, Manurewa High, giving almost 100 MMR shots to immunise students after 14 confirmed cases.

And further schools will be targeted from next week.

Ninety-one percent of under-twos are fully immunised, but that needs to be 95 percent to stop the outbreaks. The immunisation rates for young adults is unknown.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) has been notified of a case of measles for a New Zealander who flew between Auckland and Sydney late last month. The person did not know they had measles at the time.

The person departed Auckland for Sydney on Air New Zealand Flight NZ711 just before 8pm on Friday 23 August. They returned to Auckland from Australia on Flight NZ108, which departed Sydney at around 7.50pm on Sunday 25 August and landed in New Zealand at 12.15am on Monday 26 August.


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