Measles alert

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There have been 6 confirmed cases of measles in Johannesburg, as at 15 March 2017. The cases were mostly primary school children, previously unvaccinated against measles. Additionally there has been one confirmed case of measles in Rustenburg, North West Province. These cases follow a confirmed outbreak of measles in the Western Cape in the first few months of this year currently totalling 29 cases.

The Western Cape outbreak initially involved teenagers at a boarding school in the Cape Winelands district. There have subsequently been cases in the Stellenbosch and Drakenstein sub-districts of the Cape Winelands as well as Cape Metro district (Eastern, Northern and Southern sub-districts). Western Cape cases were mostly teenagers and young adults.

Vigorous vaccination campaigns have been conducted by the provincial departments of health in response to the affected schools, institutions and areas. The Western Cape Department of health has vaccinated more than 270 000 children since February. Children up to the age of 15 years were vaccinated in the affected sub-districts and up to 5 years of age in the rest of the province. In Gauteng, the affected school has been vaccinated and plans are underway for a province wide vaccination campaign targeting children less than 5 years, with inclusion up to 15 years for the affected sub-districts.

All schools, craches and health facilities country wide should be on the lookout for measles. Symptoms include fever, rash, cough, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and coryza (flu-like illness). Measles is highly infectious and spreads rapidly from person to person. People with measles can spread the disease from 4 days before the rash until 4 days after the rash onset. Complications can include diarrhoea, dehydration, brain infection (encephalitis), lung infection (pneumonia) or death. Anyone of any age can catch measles. Young children under 2 years of age are at highest risk of complications from measles.

Measles is preventable through vaccination. Measles vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing the spread of measles. Measles vaccines are routinely given at 6 and 12 months of age in the public sector, and at 12 months of age (as part of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine) in private sector. If vaccine doses have been missed, IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO VACCINATE against measles. Even if all vaccinations are up to date,measles vaccine boosters can be given when required.

Anyone who is concerned they may have measles should visit their doctor/nurse and ensure they have a blood test for measles. Without a blood test, measles cannot be differentiated from other rash illnesses, such as German measles.

For more information, please see Frequently asked questions under measles at http://www.nicd.ac.za/?page=guidelines&id=73
Vaccine Information for Mothers and Caregivers is available at http://www.nicd.ac.za/assets/files/NICD_Vaccine_Booklet_D132_FINAL.pdf

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