Canterbury Measles Outbreak

14 March 2019

Statement:       Canterbury Measles Outbreak

The following can be attributed to Violet Clapham, Chair of the NZCOM Canterbury/West Coast Region

The College is liaising very closely with the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB), Community and Public Health specialists and of course our member midwives.

The three main groups this statement relates to are; pregnant women, women with newborn babies, and midwives:

Pregnant Women:

If you’re pregnant and think you have come into contact with someone with measles, and aren’t sure if you’re immune, you should speak to your midwife and see your general practitioner (GP)as soon as possible.

Generally speaking, most women of childbearing age in New Zealand have been immunised as a child against measles. Women who are unsure of their immunisation status can seek advice from their GP.

If a pregnant women is not immune, and contracts measles during pregnancy, she maybe at increased risk of miscarriagepremature labour, or a low birthweight baby. These effects are not common however it is important to be aware of this.

If you contract measles during pregnancy, your midwife will discuss with you how to access additional care during your pregnancy to monitor your baby’s wellbeing, and to ensure follow up care for your baby after he or she is born. It is very important to avoid contact with others while you are infectious with the measles. Please make contact with healthcare providers by telephone in the first instance.

As the MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccine is a live weakened vaccine, it is not advisable to receive this vaccine while pregnant.

Mums with Newborns:

Breastfeeding can provide passive immunity to babies. Breastfeeding is strongly encouraged, especially for babies under 12 months of age, as this can provide protection against measles.

Note: Passive immunity is the passing of antibodies from an immune person to a non-immune person, providing temporary protection against disease-causing bacteria or viruses.Maternal antibodies are transferred to a baby in utero (via the placenta) and through breastfeeding (via colostrum and breastmilk).

The MMR vaccine is usually offered twice during childhood, at around 15 months, and four years of age. However, in Canterbury it is currently being offered earlier (due to the outbreak). Children are now being offered the first dose of MMR immunisation at 12 months of age. The second dose can also be offered earlier, butno sooner than four weeks after the previous one.

If you are concerned that your baby has been exposed to measles before they have had their MMR vaccine, see your GP and speak to your midwife as soon as possible.


Generally speaking, most women of childbearing age in New Zealand have been immunised against measles as a child. Women who are unsure of their immunisation status can seek advice from their GP.

If a pregnant woman is known to have been exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with measles, please advise her to contact her general practice team immediately who can organise administration of immunoglobulin to provide protection.  Immunoglobulin can be given to non-immune pregnant women (and is effective) up to 6 days after exposure to a confirmed case – not during the illness.  Information about this process is available on Health Pathways.

On Friday 15 March, from 11am-2pm at NZCOM House, 376 Manchester Street, MMR immunisation will be available for midwives aged 29-50 years of age. As measles is highly contagious before symptoms occur, and midwives are working in the community, the DHB considers them to be a priority group for vaccination.

General – Signs and symptoms of measles

  • Respiratory style illness (cough, runny nose, headache) or conjunctivitis in both eyes, and
  • Temperature over 38.5 degree Celsius and feeling very unwell, and
  • A red blotchy rash that starts on day four / five of the illness, usually on the face and moving to the chest and arms.
  • Measles is infectious for four to five days before and for four-five days after the symptoms first show. 

Clinical advice for health practitioners is available through Health Pathways, (a website based health hub), and for the general population through HealthInfo.

For further information, please contact Ali Jones (Red PR) on 0272473112. CDHB matters should be referred to the Canterbury District Health Board Communications Team 03 3377843 or email

There will be no media interviews at this stage.