In March 2005 Canterbury Health Laboratories was designated the New Zealand National Measles Laboratory.
This was in response to a request from the Ministry of Health (MoH) for New Zealand's active participation in WHO's global measles programme.
The objectives of the NZ National Measles laboratory are to
- Provide laboratory support for measles surveillance and outbreak investigation;
- provide laboratory confirmation of serologically identified measles cases;
- collect samples from clinically suspected measles cases to identify measles virus strains;
- participate in the WHO regional laboratory network.
IN THE NEWS:
Fear grows of measles outbreak
Paloma Migone - August 2011
Medical authorities fear a measles outbreak could spread to hundreds more people and are urging a boost in immunisation to stop it.
The Health Ministry's director of public health, Mark Jacobs, today said more people could become victims of the highly infectious disease that has so far infected 94 people in Auckland.
In Waikato, 16 people were suspected of having it and Waipa schools were put on high alert after 10 teenagers were exposed.
"But this isn't an issue that is just restricted to Auckland and Waikato. There is a risk that we can see other cases of measles around the country. Nowhere in New Zealand is immune from the risk."
He said the focus was to make people aware of the importance of vaccination, and warned unimmunised children would need to be excluded from schools where cases had been confirmed, to stop the outbreak.
"Measles is highly infectious; it is much easier to catch than influenza. If you have no immunity, there is an extremely high chance you will catch this disease if you come into contact with someone who has it," Jacobs said.
"The vast majority of children in Auckland who have caught measles, including the ones who have been hospitalised because they have become so sick, are not immunised. This is testament to the vaccine's effectiveness."
Eight people in Auckland were in quarantine and five had required hospitalisation. Almost all cases were people who were not immunised, and included several people associated with the Ranui Baptist Church.
Jacobs said the majority of children in New Zealand have been immunised, though the number in Auckland was lower than other parts of the country.
If parents couldn't remember whether their child had received the vaccine, they should check with their family doctor. The vaccine was free and up to 95 per cent of people were protected from measles once they were fully immunised, he said.
Jacobs said the disease was brought to New Zealand by people returning from holidays in other countries where measles was common, particularly developing countries.
Jacobs would not say whether there was a higher risk of an outbreak during the Rugby World Cup, when there would be an influx of people travelling across the country.
"People are travelling around the country every day anyway. The Rugby World Cup doesn't change that. The issue is still the same one - we need to make sure that people are aware that measles is an issue in New Zealand at the moment."
The was no sign the number of cases in Auckland would drop and people needed to get immunised, Jacobs said.
Measles could make children very sick for up to two weeks with symptoms such as a high fever, hacking cough, red eyes, runny nose and a rash.
It often starts as an influenza-like illness and the measles rash does not appear for several days.
Those who detect these symptoms in themselves or their children should phone their doctor before visiting as the disease was highly infectious and could spread through waiting rooms.
World Health Organisation accredited, 2008