South Africa: Calls for Calm After Measles Is Detected in Gauteng

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has called for calm and vigilance after four cases of measles were detected in Gauteng.

These cases were found during routine surveillance activities aimed at detecting, investigating and responding to every suspected case of this vaccine-preventable disease.

In a statement on Monday, the Department of Health said that over the last two weeks of May, four suspected cases of measles from persons residing in Gauteng had been notified and ultimately confirmed through laboratory testing conducted by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Three of these cases are individuals residing in Tshwane, which means that the City of Tshwane is experiencing an outbreak of measles. The fourth case is an individual residing in the West Rand of Gauteng.

The department said that all four individuals are presently isolating and are recovering.

The health authorities in the affected districts and communities are working together to identify and conduct vaccination of contacts.

Minister Phaahla has urged parents and caregivers to ensure that their children are up-to-date with their vaccinations in line with the vaccination schedule against measles and other childhood diseases.

“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.

Symptoms

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.

Containing the spread

Citizens have been assured that 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.

The response includes increased surveillance and vigilance throughout the province.

According to the South African Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), 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.

“If the clinical picture fits with measles, they are urged to complete a case investigation form and send samples to the National Health Laboratory Service for testing,” said the department.

Samples should include blood for antibody testing and a throat swab for viral culture, both marked “NICD Measles Laboratory – attention CVI”.

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