Samoan measles crisis impacts NZ's seasonal horticulture industry

The measles crisis in Samoa is expected to impact on New Zealand's horticulture industry with authorities introducing stricter regulations for seasonal workers travelling from the island nation.

The outbreak has killed 55 people so far while at least 1100 have been admitted to hospital.

While not a mandatory requirement, it's being recommended that Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers coming to New Zealand from Samoa be vaccinated for measles.

In an update to growers, Horticulture New Zealand said it was likely to delay visa processing.  

"Immigration New Zealand also requires RSE workers from Samoa to undergo a chest x-ray," it said.

However the Samoan health system was currently unable to provide x-ray services due to managing measles.  

Horticulture New Zealand said the new requirements for workers from Samoa was likely to delay visa processing.
Horticulture New Zealand said the new requirements for workers from Samoa was likely to delay visa processing. Photo credit: Supplied

"As a result, workers who require a chest x-ray cannot come to New Zealand at the moment.  However, those with current x-rays can travel uninterrupted."

Horticulture New Zealand said the situation was likely to reduce the number of Samoan RSE workers able to come to New Zealand this season.

"Immigration New Zealand is recommending that growers ensure that RSE workers coming into New Zealand from any Pacific country are vaccinated.  Also, growers should put measures in place to be able to isolate any measles cases." 

An RSE worker was recently confirmed with measles in Hawke's Bay - the first confirmed seasonal worker case in the region.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Rachel Eyre said the employer of the worker had acted promptly to notify the district health board's public health unit.

All close contacts had been identified and were in isolation to avoid any further spread.

Dr Eyre said the worker, from Tonga, had arrived into the country recently and, based on symptoms, did not know they had measles at the time of travel.

Hawke's Bay had 38 recognised seasonal employers who employ over 5000 people from nine countries between October and April - the majority from Vanuatu and Samoa.

"Our public health unit has been working proactively with our seasonal employers, including holding a workshop prior to arrivals about general health and wellbeing, including information about what to do in relation to measles.

 "We have had a great response to this workshop and have actively encouraged our RSE employers to provide lists of their workers and their immunisation status so we can put plans in place should there be an outbreak."

Dr Eyre said two key prevention measures are vaccination before or soon after being exposed to a person with measles and keeping cases and non-immune contacts isolated from others to prevent spread.