The Ministry of Health is strongly advising Cook Islanders and visitors with any travel plans to Rarotonga to ensure that they have been vaccinated against measles.
This comes after a three-month old baby girl and her parents were quarantined in Rarotonga and monitored for symptoms of measles after their return from Auckland last month.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health alerted Cook Islands authorities on the family’s arrival at Rarotonga International Airport. Secretary for Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman confirmed that the family was no longer being monitored as they have showed no symptoms of measles.
“We are happy and now we are doing a holiday programme encouraging our families in New Zealand that while they are there get vaccinated or check immune status so they don’t get measles,” she said.
The ministry recommends that vaccination must be done prior to commencing travel, noting the vaccine takes two weeks to become effective.
In recent months Dr Herman and the health team have been creating awareness on measles, adding the babies here are protected by Cook Islands’ high MMR vaccination rates. The adults and older children are immunised too, she said.
The ministry has also taken precaution at the airport against travellers arriving with measles symptoms.
Dr Herman said the Cook Islands had not closed its borders due to the increase of measles virus in the Pacific region.
“You will note that many countries may have made that decision but for us we have high immunisation rates and if other countries had the same we wouldn’t be talking about measles today.
“We are working really hard to prepare as best as we can, hopefully we don’t get measles here but we should be expecting it given what’s happening in the region as well as New Zealand in particular,” she added.
Samoa has declared a state of emergency after 60 lost their lives – as of yesterday – to measles as the epidemic continues to kill the most vulnerable, reports Stuff.
Of the 60 that have died, 54 were children under the age of 15, while 25 were babies aged less than one year old. Three deaths have now been recorded for adults over the age of 19.
In Fiji, there are currently 15 confirmed measles cases where the latest is a 38-year-old. New Zealand has 2084 confirmed cases, of which 80 per cent are in the Auckland region.
American Samoa, Tonga and Australia have also recorded measles cases in their countries.
In a statement, the Cook Islands public health said that they have close to 100 per cent MMR vaccination for six months and older children.
The public is advised to ensure their children are immunised with the MMR vaccine and also remain vigilant regarding covering up coughs and sneezes and implementing good hand washing hygiene.
“Ensure your child is immunised or call Public Health (29 110) for more information, check your immunisation status before travelling to affected countries, and immediately see the doctor if you are not feeling well.”
The measles virus is very contagious and is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Measles symptoms include a rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes.