The recent increase in measles cases in New Zealand has prompted the Cancer Society to remind parents to immunise their children. Measles can be a dangerous illness for any person, and particularly so for children with low immunity.
Health Promotion Manager for the Cancer Society, Dr Jan Pearson, is aware that children receiving cancer treatment are among those with very low immunity.
“Chemotherapy attacks bone marrow and reduces the effectiveness of the immune system, so a child’s immunity continues to drop as they receive more chemotherapy. For patients with leukaemia – the most common type of childhood cancer – their immunity continues to decline over the two to three years of treatment. It also remains severely impaired until at least six months after treatment ends. These children are much more susceptible to infection, particularly from viruses such as chickenpox and measles, even if they were immunised before they started treatment.”
While there is now treatment available for chickenpox, there is no effective treatment for measles.
The measles vaccine contains a live virus – so vulnerable children cannot be immunised – but everyone around them needs to be. Children with low immunity, who may have been exposed to measles, should be taken to see a GP or their specialist as soon as possible.
When children finish receiving their cancer treatment they immunised with the measles vaccine, and are among the first to be immunised during a measles outbreak.
“Extended family members and friends of vulnerable children must be immunised against measles or should stay away. Ideally they should they should get immunised as soon possible,” added Dr Pearson.
For further information contact:
Lynne St. Clair- Chapman
National Communications Manager 027 4444 150