Measles inoculation drive to prevent outbreak

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Sr Elanza Williams, Operational Manager at Wellington Community Day Centre.
Sr Elanza Williams, Operational Manager at Wellington Community Day Centre.

As part of nationwide efforts to contain large measles outbreaks and ensuring a healthy and thriving population, the Western Cape Department of Health will be making additional booster doses available for every child under the age of 15 between 6 February and 31 March.

According to Sandra Maritz, Communication Officer: Cape Winelands District for the Department of Health, only five measles positive cases have been reported in the Western Cape to date and these cases are not linked to each other and do not meet the criteria for declaring an outbreak.

Sr Elanza Williams, Operational Manager at Wellington Community Day Centre, is encouraging parents to support the measles vaccination campaign by ensuring that they keep up with their children’s immunisation schedule and being alert to the symptoms of measles, which is a preventable disease.

“You have the power to protect your child against measles: vaccinate and eradicate!” says Williams.

Parents of children under five who are not in crèches, day-care centres or schools, are urged to take their child to their closest vaccination clinic.

For children in crèches, day-care centres or schools, the department hopes to visit them to offer a convenient vaccination point there.

Parents will need to sign an informed consent form giving permission for the child to receive the measles vaccination. Should the crèche not be visited, parents should please take the child to their own vaccination clinic.

According to Maritz, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children. They explain that it is particularly dangerous for children, who may develop severe complications (such as pneumonia or brain swelling) because of measles.

Symptoms usually include fever, cough, red eyes and a rash. Measles is extremely contagious and is one of the most easily spread viruses that infects humans.

“Too many children under five years of age have been left without protection against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This has seen the risk of large outbreaks increasing in the country.

“Now more than ever, ensuring that children are up to date with their routine immunisations will help limit the risk of measles for them and others.

“The vaccine, which provides lifelong protection against measles, is available free of charge at our public health facilities. The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) is also available, at cost, in private sector clinics and is equally effective and safe,” says Sonia Botha, the Western Cape coordinator of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI).

Maritz said that the Western Cape’s aim is to have 95% of children immunised against measles as this would prevent outbreaks and provide greater population immunity.

To be protected against measles, two doses of the measles vaccine are required. Currently, an average of 80% of children in the province have received two doses of measles.

Signs and symptoms . The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus and lasts between four and seven days.. Other signs such as a cough, red and watery eyes, running nose and small white spots inside the cheeks usually develop in the initial stage. . After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. The rash looks like small, red, flat spots over the body. The rash does not form blisters, nor is it itchy or painful.. Over about three days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for five to six days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of seven to 18 days).Who is at risk?. Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death.. Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk.. Any immune compromised person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected.

Treatment . No specific antiviral treatment exists for measles virus.. Severe complications from measles can be avoided through supportive care which includes good nutrition, adequate fluid intake and treatment of dehydration with oral rehydration solution to replace fluids and other essential elements that are lost through diarrhoea or vomiting.. Paracetamol and warm water sponging are recommended for treatment of fever.. Antibiotics may be prescribed by the healthcare provider to treat eye and ear infections, or pneumonia.

Prevention . Routine measles vaccination for children is a key public health strategy to reduce measles deaths.. The measles vaccine has been in use for over 50 years.

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