Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has called for calm and vigilance after four cases of measles were detected in Gauteng, South Africa.
These cases were found during routine surveillance activities aimed at responding to every suspected case of this vaccine-preventable disease.
Four suspected cases of measles in Gauteng were detected in the last couple of weeks of May. They were confirmed by laboratory tests by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
Three of the four reside in Tshwane, which means Tshwane is experiencing an outbreak of measles, said the Health Department. The fourth case was identified in the West Rand.
All four patients are isolating and recovering.
Health authorities are working together to identify the patients’ contacts and conduct vaccination of them.
The Health Minister urged parents to ensure their kids are up-to-date with vaccinations.
“Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus which mainly spreads through infectious airborne respiratory droplets from infected persons when coughing or sneezing.
“However [the] measles vaccine has been in use for almost 60 years and is the best protection against this life-threatening childhood disease. It is safe, effective and available free of charge at public health facilities,” he said.
Measles vaccination resulted in a 73% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2018 worldwide, preventing an estimated 23.2 million deaths, according to the WHO.
Measles symptoms include fever, red eyes, runny nose and cough which typically appear before the onset of the disease’s characteristic maculopapular rash.
Children, especially those under one year of age, may develop complicated measles, which may include pneumonia, eye complications, and rarely, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
The department said unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including irreversible brain damage and/or death, especially in immunocompromised or malnourished children.
In 2018 there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five, according to the WHO.
Containing the spread of measles
Departmental officials are working closely with the Gauteng Department of Health, the City of Tshwane, the NICD and other stakeholders – including the World Health Organization and UNICEF – to investigate and respond to the outbreak.
Both the WHO and UNICEF had warned recently that conditions are ripe for serious outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Measles increased by 79% worldwide in the first two months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.
South African children are given the measles vaccine at six months and 12 months of age. These vaccines are available free of charge at public health facilities.
Measles is a notifiable medical condition in terms of the National Health Act, and clinicians have been alerted on the symptoms to look for.
Sources: SAnews.gov.za and WHO