Could your kid get measles?

Measles, the most serious of the common childhood viral illnesses has been doing the rounds in Gauteng.

‘The number of cases now stands at 468 with Gauteng being the most affected province with 422 cases,’ according to Nombuso Shabalala, Communications Manager at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Early symptoms of measles
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • A dry cough
  • Red, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
A simple blood test can confirm that your child has the disease.

The spread of measles is easy as the early symptoms are similar to a cold. If someone sneezes and you breathe in the droplets, the virus infects the surface cells of your upper airways. The virus is also found in the urine and a person is infectious from about 3 days before the rash occurs to about 5 days after.

‘The movement of people across municipal borders and provinces and between different levels of health service provision (public and private service providers) makes the containment and prevention of the spread of measles particularly difficult,’ says Shabalala.

If your child has not been vaccinated nor had measles in the past, he is likely to contract the disease if he comes into contact with an infected person, since it is highly contagious. An uninfected person can get measles simply by breathing the air in a room where an infected person has been. The virus can live in the air for 2 hours after an infected person leaves a room.

Shabalala says the City of Johannesburg together with the National Department of Health are urging that all cases of suspected measles must be reported to the health department as failure to control the spread of measles will result in unnecessary suffering and even death.

They have embarked on mass immunization campaigns in schools in the Gauteng province.

What about the vaccine?

The first dose should be given on or after the first birthday; the range is from 12-15 months. A dose given before 12 months of age may not be counted, so the child's medical appointment should be scheduled with this in mind.

The second dose is usually given when the child is 4-6 years old. However, the second dose can be given anytime as long as it is at least four weeks after the first dose.

The majority of persons with measles can be managed at home. Simple remedies that reduce fever, such as paracetamol or mefenamic acid, should be used as well as a cough mixture. If complications occur, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

Measles complications
  • Croup (inflammation of the vocal cords and upper airways) is apparent by difficult and noisy efforts to breathe in.
  • Pneumonia can be due purely to the measles virus itself, but is more often because of added infection of the damaged airways and lung surfaces by other viruses or bacteria.
  • Middle ear infection is very common and is apparent from pain in the ear. (This possibility should be kept in mind in distressed infants, since they can’t communicate where it hurts.) 
  • Diarrhoea is usually mild, but in malnourished children, it can be severe and prolonged and further compromise the child’s nutrition.
Read this measles pamphlet from the NICD for more info.

Has your children been vaccinated?

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