Measles outbreak

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Five Queenstown residents diagnosed with measles all work as ski and snowboard instructors.

Southern District Health Board confirmed five of the seven people who’ve tested positive for the highly-contagious disease in the resort in recent weeks work on the mountains.

At least three work are NZSki staff members, instructors at The Remarks, although there’s been no confirmation as yet the other two are also based there.

Three of the seven cases were confirmed late yesterday.

Dr Susan Jack, medical officer of health, yesterday morning, says the instructors have been in contact with a large number of people, including other staff and customers.

“We have several other suspected cases expected to test positive,” Dr Jack says.

“We are working with management at The Remarkables and encouraging all staff, if they’re unwell and have been in contact with a case, to stay at home.”

Measles can be life-threatening and is easily spread through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing.

Health staff are busy tracking down who’s been in contact with the instructors, however, everyone is urged to check they’re immunised and keep an eye out for symptoms.

The employees, in their 20s and 30s, are in isolation at their homes until they’re no longer infectious. The first local measles case was a visitor from Auckland.

In a written statement yesterday morning, NZSki boss Paul Anderson says staff with potential symptoms aren’t allowed to work until they get the all clear from SDHB.

Measles jabs have been made available for unvaccinated staff.

NZSki is communicating with school groups who are attending the ski area to ensure parents know what’s going on, Anderson says.

“NZSki is also advising guests to follow SDHB guidelines that have been publicised about minimising the spread of measles virus.”

It comes as New Zealand experiences its worst measles outbreak in two decades.

There have been 975 confirmed cases since the start of the year, of which more than 800 are from the Auckland region.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health said it was considering a national immunisation campaign.

To stop the illness from spreading here, Queenstown Medical Centre is setting up vaccination clinics.

Around 30 per cent of New Zealand cases have been hospitalised, Dr Jack says, but it’s not come to that in Queenstown.

Measles can have serious complications, including diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

“There is a very small chance of people having severe complications, including people dying.”

People who aren’t sure if they’re immunised are being told to check by contacting their regular general practice or checking their Well Child book.

“If you’ve had two measles-containing vaccines then you have 99 percent coverage, just one vaccine means you have 95 percent coverage.”

Dr Jack says everyone needs to be vaccinated to protect vulnerable people who are not able to be vaccinated, such as pregnant women. People with symptoms must stay at home and phone their doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116.

miranda.cook@scene.co.nz