Protect your children, keep measles immunisations up to date
Western Cape Government Health and Wellness is calling on all parents and caregivers to ensure that their children’s vaccinations are up to date to protect them against diseases that can cause serious harm, such as measles. Too many children right now are being left without protection against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases. As a result, the risk of large outbreaks has increased.
As part of nationwide efforts to contain outbreaks of measles, as experienced in several other provinces, the Western Cape Department of Health will be making additional booster doses available for every child under the age of 15 from 6 February until 31 March 2023. These additional measles boosters will ensure healthy and thriving children.
Sonia Botha, Western Cape coordinator of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), has encouraged caregivers to ensure that children are protected against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Any time you delay a vaccine, you’re increasing your child’s vulnerability to disease.
“Measles is preventable through a safe and effective vaccine, which children can access for free at public health facilities and at a minimal cost from public-private partners. Since unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, parents or caregivers can play a key role to help us prevent measles given the excellent safety record and protection that the measles vaccine offers. Parents or caregivers should consult their doctor if they suspect that their child has measles.”
Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2018, there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five, WHO reported. However, measles vaccinations resulted in a 73% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2018 worldwide.
MEASLES SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. It is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract, then spreads throughout the body.
The measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes a child more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- A high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days.
- A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.
- After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about 3 days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of 7 to 18 days).
Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Serious complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 30. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.
HOW YOU CAN PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN
Check your child’s Road to Health booklet, provided by your local clinic, to ensure that your child has received all their immunisations at the clinic or healthcare provider. If you are unsure, take your child and their Road to Health Book (clinic card) to the clinic, and ask a nurse to check. In South Africa, children are given measles immunisation at 6 months and again at 12 months.
Your child may still get measles even if immunised, but it will be less dangerous. If you have questions about immunisations or your child’s immunisation schedule, or how to catch up if your child an immunisation, talk to your health practitioner at your local clinic.
MEASLES TREATMENT AND CARE
While no specific antiviral treatment exists for measles virus, vaccination remains your child’s best defence.
Severe complications from measles can be reduced through supportive care that ensures good nutrition, adequate fluid intake and treatment of dehydration. A healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics to treat eye and ear infections, and pneumonia.
WHO recommends that all children diagnosed with measles receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. This treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that occur even in well-nourished children and can help prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have also been shown to reduce the number of measles deaths.
Here are 4 tips to care for a child at home who may have measles:
- Keep your child away from other people until the rash has been gone for four (4) days.
- Keep the room dark where your child is resting, sunlight may damage their eyes.
- Make sure that they drink lots of clean water or diluted juice. Cooled rooibos tea mixed with a little bit of juice makes a refreshing drink.
- Continue healthy eating.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death, according to WHO. WHO further warns that unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk, as well as any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected.
However, Western Cape Government Health and City of Cape Town clinics offer free vaccinations to protect you. We are committed to ensuring that no child dies from measles. We encourage parents or caregivers to visit a local clinic for support. If you have questions or need to get your child’s immunisation schedule up to date, speak to a healthcare worker.
Click here to download the full periodic programme for immunisations. To see list of our healthcare facilities to get your child immunised, visit https://www.westerncape.gov.za/dept/health/facilities/944.