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Measles in South Africa

31 August 2009
The health department has urged the public and medical practitioners to be aware of measles symptoms and for parents to get their children vaccinated after a reported outbreak in Gauteng. Fidel Hadebe, spokesperson for the health department, said there was a possibility that the disease could spread to other provinces, as over 131 cases had been reported by 30 Aug 2009. About 109 cases were from Gauteng, with 97 of these from the Tshwane (Pretoria) health district. Random cases have been reported in other parts of the country, including Mpumalanga with 8 cases. The Western Cape recorded 5, while 3 were reported in the Eastern Cape. The North West Province and Northern Cape both recorded one case each. Some suspected cases were yet to be confirmed in Limpopo.

Measles is an infectious disease that is spread through contact with the nose and throat discharges of an infected person and is mostly spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs. An infected person can infect others for several days before and after developing symptoms. It is known to spread faster in areas where infants and children gather, such as schools, day care centres and health care facilities.

According to the World Health Organisation, measles remains a leading cause of death among young children, although a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available to prevent the disease. In 2007, about 197 000 measles deaths were recorded globally, nearly 540 deaths every day or 22 deaths hourly.

Hadebe [Health Department spokesperson] called upon the public to work hand-in-hand with the health department in eradicating the virus. He said it was unfortunate that some parents still chose not to vaccinate their children even though the health department had a structured system to facilitate effective vaccination. "Parents and caregivers of children are urged to ensure that children have received all their vaccines for the age of the child by checking their Road to Health/immunisation cards. If unsure, have these checked at the local clinic. Two doses of measles vaccine should be administered, at 9 and 18 months of age. Measles immunisations are available free of charge from all public and municipal health clinics," he said. Medical practitioners were urged to put surveillance measures in place to prevent further outbreaks by promptly reporting suspected cases of measles or German measles [rubella] to their nearest local authority health department.

In an effort to contain the outbreak, the Tshwane district launched a mass measles immunisation campaign from 24 Aug to 5 Sep 2009 targeting all schools. Parents should bring their children even if they had received their measles vaccines. "School children will be immunised at school, and therefore parents are asked to complete and return consent forms obtained from the schools. Parents whose children are not in school should please take their children to the local clinic or health facility for immunisation," said Hadebe.

For more information visit:
the National Institute for Communicable
Disease website:
, or the Department of Health website:, or contact your nearest clinic.

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