Alert: Measles sweeps across SA

There is an effective vaccine against measles that should be given to infants at 9 months.
There is an effective vaccine against measles that should be given to infants at 9 months.

South Africa has recorded a surge in measles cases, with the Northern Cape Province topping the list, warned the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

"Over the past two months, there has been an increase in laboratory-confirmed (IgM positive) measles cases." The five provinces affected are Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape.

Sporadic laboratory-confirmed measles cases have also been noted in the Eastern Cape and Free State. "No laboratory-confirmed measles cases have been reported from Limpopo and Northwest provinces during 2014 to date."

Read: Measles cases at a 20-year high

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air as a result of coughing and sneezing.

The Northern Cape Province reported five laboratory-confirmed measles cases. It was detected within a four-week period in Siyanda District Municipality, which borders both Namibia and Botswana.

"Of concern is that Namibia has recently reported an increase in measles cases from certain districts," the institute pointed out.

It added that the Northern Cape Provincial Department of Health initiated an outbreak investigation in Siyanda District, and is implementing public health responses to curb the outbreak.

Read: Could your kid get measles?

These include intensifying surveillance for suspected measles cases, identifying and vaccinating measles-susceptible children, reducing morbidity and mortality by ensuring appropriate measles case management, and health promotion activities in the community.

What to look out for:

    - High fever, rising over 3 days to 39 to 40.5 degrees C
    - Runny nose
    - A harsh, dry cough
    - Red, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis) and aversion to bright light

What are the complications

Complications can be severe, including middle ear infection, croup, pneumonia, diarrhoea and encephalitis.

Any suspected measles case should be notified immediately to the Department of Health, and a blood sample collected and sent to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) for measles serology testing.  

For measles testing at the NICD, a clotted blood specimen (red top or dark yellow top) should be sent accompanied by the case investigation form (CIF). Healthcare workers who have access to throat swabs should additionally send a throat swab on suspected measles cases.

Don't delay
Notification should occur based on a clinical suspicion of measles, and must not be delayed pending results of measles diagnostic tests.

This enables the Department of Health to timeously follow up all suspected measles cases and offer measles vaccination, the Institute said.

Read more:

Measles surge following vaccine scare
Measles and polio vaccine running out in SA
Childhood brain tumours vulnerable to measles vaccine

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