Three laboratory-confirmed measles cases were detected in Rustenburg sub-district, Bojanala Platinum district in North West province within a period of four weeks. The occurrence of these cases fulfils the criteria for a measles outbreak, and the North West Provincial Department of Health has triggered response activities, with support from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the National Department of Health (NDoH) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Awareness is key
Due to the complications and mortality associated with measles, it is important that individuals are aware of the symptoms, seek help early and have a blood test to differentiate measles from other rash illnesses such as rubella (German measles). Community engagement activities are being organised ahead of a planned vaccination campaign in Rustenburg sub-district and other sub-districts in Bojanala Platinum District. Vaccination is an important precautionary measure to prevent spread to neighbouring communities.
How measles spreads
Measles is a contagious disease caused by the measles virus and is spread by droplets from respiratory secretions of infected persons when coughing or sneezing. People at high risk for severe illness and complications from measles include infants and children aged <5 years, adults aged >20 years, pregnant women and persons with compromised immune systems, such as from certain cancers and HIV infection.
Measles starts with respiratory tract symptoms similar to the common cold or ‘flu’, with ‘the three C’s’: conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes), cough and coryza (runny nose), fever, tiredness and muscle pain. The rash of measles usually appears 3 – 5 days after the start of symptoms, beginning on the face and spreading down the body. It is important for individuals with these signs and symptoms to visit a clinic/doctor to confirm the diagnosis and make sure complications of measles do not occur.
The NICD does testing for measles at no cost because it is a notifiable medical condition (NMC) and any doctor in public or private sector can request the laboratory to send the specimen to the NICD for testing. Throat swabs or urine samples can be requested in addition to blood samples during an outbreak.
Vaccination is the most important way of preventing measles, and the Department of Health provides measles vaccine free of charge at local clinics. After two doses of vaccine 95% of persons will be protected from measles. The measles vaccine is safe and effective. The MeasBio® (Biovac) vaccine is administered at 6 months of age with a booster at 12 months of age according to the South African Expanded Programme on Immunization. Public and private providers in South Africa use the MeasBio® (Biovac) vaccine. In the private health sector, there are two vaccines (Priorix® and Omzyta®) that each offer protection against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).