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Parents urged to keep children up-to-date on vaccination as health authorities investigate measles outbreak in Gauteng

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The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced that over the last two weeks, four laboratory-confirmed cases of measles from people living in Gauteng have been notified and confirmed through laboratory testing by the NICD.

A grade one learner received his measles immunization at Boipakitso Primary School. Photo: Siddique Davids/Gauteng Department of Health and Social Development

PARENTS and caregivers have been urged to ensure that their children are up-to-date with their vaccination as health authorities investigate and respond to an outbreak of measles in Gauteng.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced that over the last two weeks, four laboratory-confirmed cases of measles from people living in Gauteng have been notified and confirmed through laboratory testing by the NICD.

Three of the cases are individuals residing in Tshwane and the fourth case is an individual rising in West Rand. The NICD said all cases are presently isolated and are recovering and health authorities in the affected districts are working together to identify contacts, offer vaccination, and/or conduct vaccination of contacts.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two or more cases of measles in a health district within one month is regarded as a measles outbreak.

“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,” said Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla.

“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.”

The NICD said measles symptoms include fever, red eyes, runny nose and cough which typically appear before the onset of the disease’s characteristic maculopapular rash.

“Children under 1 year of age may develop complicated measles including bronchopneumonia, keratoconjunctivitis, and rarely, encephalitis. These complications may lead to irreversible damage and or death, especially in immunocompromised or malnourished children. Furthermore, even healthy children who develop measles develop transient immunosuppression and are more susceptible to common childhood illnesses for at least one year after infection,” the organisation said.

The department said it was working closely with the Gauteng Department of Health, the City of Tshwane and the West Rand district health teams, the NICD, and WHO staff members to investigate and respond to the outbreak. This response includes increased surveillance and vigilance throughout the province.

Dr Michelle Groome of the NICD’s Centre Head for the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response said that non-pharmaceutical measures such as social distancing and handwashing might not be sufficient to prevent transmission of the measles virus.

“Measles is preventable through a safe and effective vaccine. Caregivers and mothers are urged to ensure that children are up to date with their routine vaccinations,” Groome said.

According to the South African Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), children are given measles vaccines at 6 months and 12 months of age. These vaccines are available free of charge at public health facilities and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) is also available, at cost, in private sector clinics.

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