Canterbury Health Laboratories has been designated the World Health Organization (WHO) National Measles and Rubella Laboratory (NMRL) for New Zealand since March 2005.


The NMRL's aim is to provide laboratory support for measles/rubella outbreak investigation and confirmation of measles/rubella cases using WHO recommended methods.


The specific objectives are to:

Provide laboratory support for measles/rubella surveillance and outbreak investigation
Provide laboratory confirmation of serologically identified measles/rubella cases
Collect samples from clinically suspected measles cases to identify measles/rubella virus strains
Participate in the WHO regional laboratory network for the Western Pacific region


Monitoring measles/rubella virus strains is an important tool in the identification of related outbreaks and helps with the World Health Organization’s commitment to eradicate the measles and rubella viruses globally.


Patients having the suspicion of being infected with measles or rubella virus should not visit their GP without prior telephone contact since both viruses are highly contagious and can easily be trasmitted in the waiting room.





Measles outbreaks New Zealand


Update: 27th of November 2019

Since March/April 2019 two ongoing measles outbreaks, derived from sparate importations of two different measles genotypes (B3 and D8) are affecting New Zealand, with a total number of 2093 measles cases (as of 22nd of November) recorded for 2019 so far. Mainly northern parts of the North Island were affected: Bay of Plenty (43), Waikato (51), Auckland (265), Lakes (28), Counties Manukau (1126), Northland (107), Capital and Coast (21), Waitemata (290), Taranaki (7), Hawke's Bay (16), MidCentral (9), Hutt Valley (9), Wairarapa (1), Canterbury (44), South Canterbury (2), Southern (73). Since the beginning of September the number of measles cases is now constantly decreasing due to increased vaccine coverage in the population.


Measles graph

(courtesy of: ESR Measles Weekly Report)

 Measles is a serious, highly infectious, potentially life-threatening disease and Medical Officer of Health Dr Pink advises that people are infectious from five days before the onset of the rash until five days after the rash appears.  “People should stay in isolation from the time that they may have become infected until five days after the rash first appears.This means staying home from school or work and having no contact with unimmunised people. If others in your household are unimmunised, they need to stay in isolation too for fourteen to twenty one days from their likely first exposure. Because measles is so infectious, it’s important people with symptoms don’t visit their GP or after hours clinics but phone their family doctor/general practice team for advice instead, to avoid infecting other people. People should only go to the hospital if it’s an emergency and should inform staff immediately if they think they have measles.”

Anyone with measles symptoms or who believes they may have been exposed, should contact their usual general practice team 24/7 for additional advice. Calls made after hours will be answered by a nurse who will advise you what to do and where to go if you need to be seen.

“If you have had two MMR vaccinations or were born before 1969, you are considered immune to measles. Everyone else may be vulnerable to infection,” Dr Pink says.

Those born overseas or who are unsure which vaccinations they might have had, should contact their general practice team for advice. The measles vaccine and the appointment to have it is free to all those who are eligible for funded healthcare in New Zealand.


Measles outbreaks in the Wester Pacific Region


There are several active measles outbreaks in countries of the Western Pacific Region: Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Philippines. People under the age of 50 who are planning to travel to one of these areas and who have no evidence of MMR vaccination should be vaccinated at least two weeks before travel.






Measles symptoms include:

  • A respiratory type of illness with dry cough, runny nose, headache
  • Temperature over 38.5 C and feeling very unwell
  • A red blotchy rash starts on day 4-5 of the illness usually on the face and moves to the chest and arms.


- Measles is highly contagious - if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.


- It can take up to 3 weeks for symptoms to appear. You should phone your family doctor/general practice team 24/7 for #carearoundtheclock if you are concerned. If it’s after-hours a nurse will answer the call and advise what to do and where to go if you need to be seen.


- Measles cannot be treated once you get it so the only way to protect yourself is to be fully vaccinated. People are only considered immune if they have received two doses of MMR vaccine and/or have had a measles illness previously and/or were born before 1969.


- Adults born before 1969 are considered immune to measles because the virus is so infectious and a measles vaccine was not available in New Zealand until 1969. Anyone born after 1969 who hasn’t received two doses of the MMR vaccine isn’t fully protected and is likely vulnerable to infection. People born overseas may also be vulnerable.


- If you think you have measles call your general practice team for advice. Do not visit your general practice, a pharmacy, or the hospital unless it is an emergency.






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