Chapter last reviewed and updated in March 2024. The main sections updated were:

  • Management of contacts (Testing, Definitions. Prophylaxis, Restriction) 
  • Management of case 
  • Reporting

A description of changes can be found at Updates to the Communicable Disease Control Manual.  

Notes: 

  1. The information in the CD manual provides guidance on public health management of measles during the “stamp it out” phase of a measles outbreak.  
  2. The Case and Contact management chart(v1.5 Published 4 April 2024) provides a quick reference guide for PHS on public health management of measles.  This can be found in the NPHS Village. If you cannot find this chart, please email nationalpublichealthops@health.govt.nz 
  3. During an outbreak response, the Case and Contact management chart will be updated before the CD manual chapter if urgent changes to case and contact management are recommended by the measles technical advisory group.  If this occurs a note will be added to this chapter and communication will be sent to all public health services.

Epidemiology

New Zealand epidemiology

In 2017, Aotearoa New Zealand was verified by the World Health Organization as having eliminated endemic measles. It has maintained elimination since then. This means that there has not been sustained transmission of measles for longer than a year in New Zealand since 2014. However, measles is often imported into New Zealand following international travel.

New Zealand has continued to experience outbreaks of measles in recent decades. In the 2019 outbreak, more than 2000 people were infected with measles. The majority of cases were in Auckland and Canterbury, and the virus spread across many other parts of New Zealand and into neighbouring Pacific countries. More recently, New Zealand experienced more contained outbreaks in February and May 2023, with both located in Auckland.

Reoccurring measles outbreaks are due to historically low immunisation rates and therefore insufficient levels of immunity across the population to prevent community transmission. Prevention of measles outbreaks relies on improving coverage with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination.

More detailed epidemiological information is available on the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) surveillance website.

Case definition

Clinical description

An illness characterised by all of the following:

  1. cough and/or coryza and/or conjunctivitis and/or Koplik’s spots present at the time of rash onset
  2. fever (at least 38ºC if measured) present at the time of rash onset
  3. generalised maculopapular rash, starting on the head and neck then spreading down and out and fading.

Laboratory test for diagnosis

Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), eg, PCR, are preferred for diagnosis. Nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal samples have the highest yield particularly in the seven days after the onset of rash. Urine testing can be useful for those presenting more than three weeks after onset of rash. Submitting both a throat or nasopharyngeal swab and a urine sample provides the best yield if sampling is delayed. 

Definitive laboratory evidence for a confirmed case is:

  • A positive NAAT of a non-vaccine strain

Suggestive laboratory evidence is: 

  • IgG seroconversion between paired sera tested in parallel  
  • IgM detection in an unvaccinated person  

The use of serology in the investigation of a suspected measles case is only recommended in cases where NAAT is not possible AND if requested by a medical officer of health after discussion with a clinical microbiologist. Any positive IgM result should be discussed with a clinical microbiologist.

Genotyping information is useful for epidemiology and outbreak investigation. Genotyping via sequencing can be performed on measles-positive NAAT samples at the National Measles and Rubella Reference Laboratory (NMRL) at Canterbury Health Laboratories (CHL), Christchurch. Genotyping should be performed on all:

  • New importations
  • Index cases and the first 5-10 cases of an outbreak/cluster. If outbreaks continue, then additional samples should be genotyped on a monthly basis
  • Sporadic cases that are not epidemiologically linked to other genotyped cases or clusters, and
  • All samples requested by the medical officer of health investigating the outbreak.

Samples from patients with recent measles vaccination history can also be tested for the presence of the measles vaccine strain at CHL, SCL Dunedin and LabPlus in Auckland via a vaccine-strain-specific PCR assay.

All requests for NAAT for measles and samples referred for genotyping or testing for the presence of the measles vaccine strain should have recent vaccination status included on the request form.

Sample requirements:

  • For genotyping via sequencing and vaccine-strain-specific PCR a minimum of 1 mL of primary patient sample (ideally nasopharyngeal swab sample in universal transport medium) should be sent to the respective laboratory
  • In addition, 1 mL of all positive samples should be sent to the NMRL at CHL if possible
  • If this is not possible during an outbreak, with high sample numbers, then at least 10 positive samples per week (and all those samples that require genotyping) should be forwarded to the NMRL at CHL.

Note: laboratory testing is not always required for contacts of known cases to be classified as confirmed cases. 

Interpreting serology

Serology is most useful for detecting IgG in those who have an unclear vaccination history, although commercial assays do not detect all vaccine-induced immunity. There are limited circumstances where IgG testing may be appropriate to test exposed contacts to determine if they are immune, such as: 

  • Immunocompromised people or pregnant women for whom normal human immunoglobulin (NHIG) may be recommended if they are known to be susceptible
  • Healthcare workers for whom it is too late for post-exposure prophylaxis to be effective. 
  • People who need to be excluded from critical duties unless they have demonstrable immunity to measles
  • Seeking confirmation of immune status due to unknown vaccination status or partially vaccinated individuals (to support decisions regarding restriction requirements or necessity for a booster vaccination). 

Limitations

IgM serology is often unreliable, particularly in previously vaccinated people. Recent vaccination may result in an IgM response, and previously vaccinated but infected persons may not develop an IgM response. IgM serology confirmed by the reference laboratory may occasionally help in late presentations and should be interpreted in discussion with a clinical microbiologist.  

After measles vaccination, measles IgM is produced as part of the seroconversion and can be detected for 1–2 months. Serologically diagnosed cases who have received a measles-containing vaccine 8 days to 6 weeks before testing should not be classified as confirmed measles cases unless they are also linked epidemiologically to another confirmed case before vaccination.  

Measles IgG detected without IgM within 1–2 days of a rash strongly suggests prior immunity and that the rash is more likely due to causes other than measles. 

Case classification

  • Under investigation: A case that has been notified, but information is not yet available to classify it as probable or confirmed.
  • Probable: A clinically compatible illness where there is a high index of suspicion* of disease, and either laboratory suggestive evidence** or laboratory confirmatory testing is inconclusive or cannot be performed.
  • Confirmed: A clinically compatible illness that is laboratory confirmed or epidemiologically linked to a confirmed case.
  • Not a case: A case that has been investigated and subsequently found not to meet the case definition.

* A high index of suspicion is if someone has a clinically compatible illness, is susceptible to measles (not immune/immunised) and has been in an area with known measles cases (either in Aotearoa New Zealand or overseas) during the incubation period OR when there is an epidemiological link to a probable case.

** See ‘Laboratory test for diagnosis’ above

Spread of infection

Incubation period

About 10 days, but may be 7–18 days, from exposure to onset of fever, and about 14 days, but may be 7–21 days, from exposure to the onset of rash. The incubation period may be longer in those given immunoglobulin after exposure.

Mode of transmission

Airborne spread or by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of cases. The measles virus has a short survival time (less than 2 hours) and is rapidly inactivated by heat, sunlight and pH extremes. Both ventilation and masking are effective at reducing (but not necessarily preventing) transmission of airborne diseases.

Infectious period

For public health purposes, the case is considered infectious from 4 days before appearance of rash to 4 full days after onset of rash (counting the day of rash onset as day 0), ie, this is a total of 9 days.

Notification

Notification procedure

Attending health practitioners or laboratories must immediately notify the local medical officer of health of suspected cases. Notification from health practitioners should not await confirmation.

See Appendix 5: Escalation pathways for more information

Management of case

Please refer to the Case and Contact management chart(v1.5 Published 4 April 2024). 

This can be found on the NPHS Village. If you cannot find this chart, please email nationalpublichealthops@health.govt.nz 

Investigation

Wherever possible, all relevant clinical and demographic information on the suspected case should be collected within one day.

Obtain a history of vaccination, immunodeficiency, contact with a probable or confirmed case and travel.

In consultation with the attending health practitioner, obtain laboratory confirmation where possible and necessary. Testing may not be necessary or appropriate for cases with an epidemiological link to a confirmed case in outbreak situations.

Restriction

Isolate (ie, stay home unless seeking health care) for at least four days after the appearance of the rash. If seeking health care call ahead to inform that they are infectious with measles.

In health care facilities, airborne precautions should be taken until four days after the appearance of the rash.

Treatment (supportive)

Vitamin A treatment can reduce the risk of fatality and eye complications and should be considered particularly in cases of hospitalised children, and in cases with severe or complicated measles, immunodeficiency, malabsorption, malnutrition or documented vitamin A deficiency.

Counselling

Advise the case and their caregivers of the nature of the infection and its mode of transmission. If other vaccinations are incomplete, recommend the case catches up once they are through the acute illness.

Active case finding

Public health services should alert doctors and laboratories in areas where the case may have acquired the infection or was infectious and should ask these doctors and laboratories to notify all cases to the public health service promptly. Part of the reason for this is that early prophylaxis given to susceptible contacts (see below) can reduce the risk of developing disease. Consider a media alert to assist in finding cases.

Management of contacts

Please refer to the Case and Contact Management Chart (v1.5 Published 4 April 2024).

This can be found on the NPHS Village. If you can not find this chart, please email nationalpublichealthops@health.govt.nz

Description

The purpose of contact tracing for measles is to: 

  1. prevent and contain outbreaks 
  2. identify those contacts at risk of severe disease who are eligible for post exposure prophylaxis with immunoglobulin  
  3. identify non-immune contacts who could be vaccinated within 72 hours of exposure. 

Management of contacts differs according to their immune status including whether they have had one or two measles vaccinations.      

 

Public Health Services should first identify whether an individual is a close or casual contact and then determine their immunity status (see below).     

 

Where resources are limited, public health services should prioritise follow up of those contacts at highest risk of severe disease and those contacts working in higher risk settings such as healthcare.   

 

Contacts at higher risk of severe measles infection  

Contacts at higher risk of severe disease from measles include: 

  • infants under 12-months of age 
  • immunosuppressed people 
  • non-immune pregnant people and for 6 weeks post-partum 
  • non-immune children aged <5 years. 

Definitions

Close contact 

A close contact is anyone who has had face to face contact with a case; direct contact with respiratory secretions from a case; or has spent time in a confined indoor space at the same time as an infectious case.  As the measles virus can survive in the air for up to 2 hours, a person may be considered a close contact if they spent time in a confined indoor space after it has been vacated by the case. 

Confined indoor spaces may include early childhood services, classrooms, households, transportation, waiting rooms, consultations rooms, hospital rooms, indoor occupational or social settings.  

 

In health care settings, a person will generally be considered a close contact if they spent time in a room within 2 hours of the case leaving.  A shorter stand down period maybe required, depending on the number of air changes (See CDC guidance) if the case was in an AIIR (airborne infection isolation room) this is 35 minutes. A 2-hour period may be considered in settings with poor ventilation such as a closed side room. See here for more guidance. 

 

Mask use by the case or contact may reduce the risk of a contact becoming infected with measles, however evidence for this is not established.    

 

A medical officer of health may use their discretion when determining if mask use and other factors should alter a person’s designation as a close or casual contact. For example, in healthcare settings, a staff member who was wearing an N95 or P2 mask may not be considered a close contact.  

 

Casual contact 

This category can be used for a person who has attended an event in an indoor setting where at least some (but not all) of the individuals who attended are likely to have had sufficient contact with the infectious measles case to put them at risk of infection. 

 

This contact category can be used where either those who attended are unknown, or their level of exposure to the infectious case cannot be determined. For example, individuals who went to the same café as an infectious case but the timing of visits and proximity of patrons to the case cannot be determined.   

 

Assessing contact immunity 

Assessing the immunity status of contacts is required to inform contact management decisions.   

 

In all circumstances, evidence of immunity is required for a contact to be considered immune.  If immunity status is unknown, or serology results are awaited, all contacts should be considered susceptible (non-immune) and managed accordingly. 

 

The criteria for determining whether a close contact is considered immune, susceptible – partially vaccinated or susceptible – Non-immmune are described below.  

Please note that the information in this section may differ from definitions used in the immunisation handbook. Where there is a difference, the guidance in the CD manual should be followed. 

 

Immune close contact 

For public health management purposes, a contact will be classified as immune if any of the following apply: 

  • they were born before 1 January 1969  
  • they have received two measles-containing vaccine, given at least one month apart and both were given after their first birthday. This includes contacts who received their second measles-containing vaccine within 72 hours of exposure to an infectious case. 
  • they have serology results confirming they are immune. Note: equivocal serology results are considered negative [1] 
  • they have evidence of a previous measles infection confirmed through testing (eg PCR results).  

 

If a contact is immunosuppressed, they may require further assessment to determine if they are immune (see below). Some immunosuppressed contacts will be susceptible to measles even if they have evidence of prior to immunity.    

 

If a contact received post exposure prophylaxis with immunoglobulin this will not change their contact categorisation, or requirements for quarantine or restrictions. However, the quarantine period will be extended to 18 days amongst those who have received NHIG 

 

 *This is because prior to the measles vaccine being introduced to NZ in 1969, most people would have been exposed to measles and have developed immunity.  A Medical Officer of Health has discretion to apply a different date cut off for contacts born outside of New Zealand.  

 

Susceptible – partially vaccinated contact. 

A contact who is confirmed to have only had one measles containing vaccine which was administered after the age of 12 months.    This includes infants aged 12-months to under 15-months who may be categorised as immune for age in the immunisation handbook.  

 

Susceptible – Non-immune close contact 

Any contact who does not meet the criteria to be considered immune, or susceptible -partially vaccinated, is categorised as a susceptible -non-immune contact.  

 

This includes the following groups: 

  • contacts who have received one MMR vaccine, but it was administered prior to 12 months of age  
  • contacts with serology results indicating they are not immune (this applies even if the result is equivocal or they have evidence of previous infection or vaccination) 
  • contacts who received their MMR1 as post-exposure prophylaxis.  

 

Immunosuppressed contacts 

Immunosuppressed individuals are at risk of severe measles and should be considered for post-exposure prophylaxis with immunoglobulin following exposure to measles.   Given the increased risk of severe disease it is important to consider even limited exposure 

 therefore, all immunosuppressed contacts, including casual contacts, should undergo a rapid assessment to determine their immune status and eligibility for post-exposure prophylaxis. See Starship guidance for more information. 

 

Discussion with the contact’s clinical team is required.  However, in general immunoglobulin should be considered for:  

  • non-immune immunosuppressed patients if within 6 days of exposure 
  • patients (in discussion with their treating clinician) immunity if within 6 days of exposure irrespective of previous vaccination history or whether IgG can be detected.  

Counselling

Contacts should be advised to continue to monitor for symptoms of measles for at least 18 days, and to stay home and contact public health or their primary care provider if these develop.    

 

Contacts who require health care should be advised to phone ahead and advise they are a measles close contact.  This will enable these facilities to take action to prevent transmission. At a minimum the contact must wear a mask.  

Quarantine and restriction

Susceptible contacts quarantine (ie, stay home unless seeking health care) from seven days after first exposure to an infectious case until 14 full days after last exposure to an infectious case. That is, if there has been a single exposure, quarantine is for seven days (from 7 until 14 days after exposure). However, if exposure has been for more than one day (potentially exposure to several cases with differing infectious periods), then quarantine will be for more than seven days. 

However, partially vaccinated contacts (those with only one documented dose of MMR):

  • Will not be requested  to quarantine, but
  • Should be excluded from higher risk settings*, unless the setting is one where all others present have acceptable presumptive evidence of immunity, and
  • The contact will continue to be monitored for signs and symptoms consistent with measles for at least 14 days, and
  • A second MMR needs to be administered as soon as possible (but at least four weeks from the first dose).

 

* Higher risk settings include early childhood education centres, healthcare, and other settings where there may be high levels of contact and with susceptible people who may be more prone to developing severe disease if infected.

 

The medical officer of health should consider whether it is necessary to exclude children who are contacts from early childhood services using the Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998.

 

Further information on post exposure MMR vaccination and quarantine/exclusion, including an algorithm, is available at Post-exposure MMR vaccination and exclusion.

 

Non-susceptible contacts (see ‘Acceptable presumptive evidence of immunity’ above) need no restriction.

Monitoring and testing

Casual contacts and immune close contacts 

No active monitoring by public health services is required.  

 

Susceptible – partially vaccinated contacts 

  • Public health services should monitor contacts for signs and symptoms consistent with measles for at least 14 days post-exposure, where health capacity permits and only for the duration of their period of restriction.  Monitoring frequency is expected to be less than for susceptible- nonimmune contacts (see below). 
  • A second dose of MMR should be offered as soon as possible after the period of restriction has ended. This second dose should be administered at least four weeks after the first dose. 
  • If a contact develops symptoms of measles they should be monitored until measles is excluded.  If testing is required, this should occur once the rash has developed unless there are compelling reasons to do it earlier.  
  •  

 

Susceptible – nonimmune contacts 

  • Public Health Services should actively monitor non-immune contacts for the duration of their quarantine period.    
  • Monitoring of contacts with symptoms at the end of their quarantine period should continue until measles has been excluded.   
  • If testing is required, this should occur once the rash has developed unless there are compelling reasons to do it earlier.  
  • After leaving quarantine, contacts should be advised to continue to monitor for symptoms of measles for at least 18 days after their last exposure to the case.  

Post exposure prophylaxis

Immunoglobulin prophylaxis 

For susceptible close contacts, consider the use of MMR vaccine, human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) or intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). The below information has been taken from the Immunisation Handbookand provides advice for human normal immunoglobulin prophylaxis for measles contacts. 

 

Human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG; Normal Immunoglobulin-VF) is recommended for measles-susceptible individuals in whom the vaccine is contraindicated and susceptible pregnant close contacts.  

 

For these individuals, HNIG is given to attenuate disease and should be given as soon as possible, up to a maximum of six days after exposure. All other susceptible contacts should be offered MMR as post-exposure prophylaxis. 

HNIG provides no benefit to those who are already exhibiting symptoms of measles.  

 

Post exposure prophylaxis may extend quarantine by 4 days. Therefore, individuals who have received immunoglobulin prophylaxis should be excluded for a total of 18 days after their last exposure to an infectious case. 

 

HNIG may be recommended for the following close contacts of measles cases as soon as possible and up to six days after exposure: 

  • immunocompromised or immune-deficient people 
  • susceptible pregnant women (if no evidence of two measles-containing vaccine doses, check serology and/or give HNIG) 
  • immune-competent infants aged under 6 months: because maternal antibody wanes in the first six months of life, evidence of maternal vaccination status or serology tests may not predict protection for these infants. Maternal serology may be helpful for neonates. The role of an infant measles IgG test is unclear but may be helpful if available rapidly. Discuss use of HNIG for these infants with a paediatrician 
  • immune-competent children aged between 6 and 12 months, who are outside the 72-hour exposure window for MMR vaccination 
  • infants born prematurely <28 weeks’ gestation are considered non-immune irrespective of maternal immune status 
  • infants aged under 12 months born to mothers who received immunomodulatory biologic agents in pregnancy, unable to receive MMR0. 

 

For further details for infants under 6 months and immunocompromised children refer to the Starship Child Health guidelines. 

 

The recommended dose for pregnant women and immunocompromised or immunodeficient people is 0.6 mL/kg intramuscularly, to a maximum dose of 15 mL, usually administered as three 5 mL injections. 

 

Appendix 6 of the Immunisation Handbook outlines considerations around passive immunisation with immunoglobulin.  

 

Vaccination 

 

If there is doubt about a contact’s immunity, and there are no contra-indications to vaccination (for example, pregnancy,  some immunosuppressed individuals), give MMR vaccination as there are no undue effects from vaccinating an individual who is already immune.   

 

There is some evidence that a dose of MMR vaccine, when given to an unvaccinated or partially vaccinated person within 72 hours of first contact with an infectious case, may reduce the risk of developing disease.  

 

If a susceptible partially vaccinated contact receives an MMR vaccine within 72 hours of exposure, they will be managed as an immune close contact.  

 

If vaccination is provided more than 72 hours after exposure, this will not alter quarantine or restriction requirements.  

 

The medical officer of health should consider whether it is necessary to exclude children who are contacts from early childhood services using the Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998. 

 

Further information on post exposure MMR vaccination and quarantine/exclusion, including an algorithm, is available in the Immunisation Handbook

Other control measures

Health education

Stress the importance of two doses of measles vaccination for all children and encourage early childhood services to keep up-to-date immunisation records for all attending children.

Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended for all children (without contraindications): the first at 12 months of age and the second at 15 months of age. Where dose/s have been delayed or missed, catch-up vaccination is recommended.

Catch-up vaccination is recommended for anyone born from 1 January 1969 who has missed doses of measles vaccine (or who cannot show they are immune).

New Zealand residents are eligible for a free primary course (two doses of MMR vaccine).

Depending on circumstances, such as during an outbreak or prior to international travel, a second MMR dose may be given 1 month after the first dose. During a generalised community outbreak, an extra dose (dose 0) may be offered to infants 6–12 months of age, but as effectiveness cannot be guaranteed, all children still need two further doses when they are over 12 months of age. This is because the seroconversion rate is lower when MMR is administered to an infant under 12 months of age.

Infection control

Ensure that the attending health practitioner and laboratory collection rooms understand the importance of prompt isolation of a suspected case within their health care facility and the need to leave the consultation/examination room vacant for at least 1 hour after the suspected case has left it. Visits of cases and contacts (who may be entering the infectious period) to laboratory collection rooms should be planned ahead by telephone.

Ventilation and masking are effective at reducing transmission of airborne diseases.

Reporting

National reporting

Ensure complete case information is entered into NDMS (Notifiable Disease Management System).

If an outbreak occurs, contact 0800GETMOH - CD option, and outbreak liaison staff at ESR, and complete the Outbreak Report Form.

Further information

References