High alert as measles spreads

Fidel Hadebe spokesperson for the health department said there was a possibility that the disease could spread to other provinces as over 131 cases had been reported by August 30.   About 109 cases were from Gauteng with 97 of these from the Tshwane (Pretoria) health district.

Random cases have been reported in other parts of the country including Mpumalanga with eight cases. The Western Cape recorded five while three were reported in the Eastern Cape. The North West Province and Northern Cape both recorded one case each. Some suspected cases were yet to be confirmed in Limpopo.

Measles is an infectious disease that is spread through contact with the nose and throat discharge of an infected person and is mostly spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

An infected person can infect others for several days before and after developing symptoms. It is known to spread faster in areas where infants and children gather such as schools, day care centres and health care facilities.

According to the World Health Organisation measles remains a leading cause of death among young children although a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available to prevent the disease. In 2007 about 197 000 measles deaths were recorded globally ‘€“ nearly 540 deaths every day or 22 deaths hourly.

Hadebe called upon the public to work hand in hand with the health department in eradicating the virus. He said it was unfortunate that some parents still chose not to vaccinate their children even though the health department had a structured system to facilitate effective vaccination.

‘€œParents and caregivers of children are urged to ensure that children have received all their vaccines for the age of the child, by checking their Road to Health/immunisation cards.

If unsure, have these checked at the local clinic. Two doses of measles vaccine should be administered ‘€“ at 9 and 18 months of age. Measles immunisations are available free of charge from all public and municipal health clinics’€, he said.

Medical practitioners were urged to put surveillance measures in place to prevent further outbreaks by promptly reporting suspected cases of measles or German measles to their nearest local authority health department.

In an effort to contain the outbreak the Tshwane district launched a mass measles immunisation campaign from August 24 to September 5 targeting all schools. Parents should bring their children even if they had received their measles vaccines.

‘€œSchool children will be immunised at school, and therefore parents are asked to complete and return consent forms obtained from the schools. Parents whose children are not in school should please take their children to the local clinic or health facility for immunisation,’€ said Hadebe.

Symptoms of measles:

The first sign of infection is a high fever which begins approximately 10’€“12 days after exposure and lasts several days. During this period, the patient may develop a runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside his or her cheeks.

After several days, a slightly raised rash develops, usually on the face and upper neck.

Over a period of about three days, the rash spreads to the body and then to the hands and feet. It lasts for five or six days and then fades. The incubation period from exposure to the onset of the rash averages 14 days, with a range of seven to 18 days.

Complications of measles

Unimmunized children under five years of age, and especially infants, are at highest risk for measles and its complications, including death. Infected infants may suffer from severe diarrhoea, possibly causing dehydration. Children may also develop inflammation of the middle ear and severe respiratory tract infections.

For more information visit: the National Institute for Communicable Disease website:  www.nicd.ac.za  or the Department of Health website:  www.health.gov.za  or contact your nearest clinic.

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