Measles outbreak in Stellenbosch: how to protect your kids

Updated: 2 February 2017

A measles outbreak in Stellenbosch is under control, says the Western Cape Department of Health. In an official statement issued on Thursday 2 February, Jo-Anne Otto, the Principal Communications Officer says the Department has identified five confirmed measles cases in a school in Stellenbosch. This constitutes an outbreak. The learners received the necessary medical treatment and are recovering. 

Since being notified, the Department has followed up with all cases and their contacts, screened them and offered vaccination. Depending on the number of cases, it may institute mass vaccination at schools and other institutions.

All the health facilities and health practitioners in the area and provinces are on high alert for suspected measles cases to ensure rapid management. 

The Department urges parents, guardians, caregivers and schools to assist by taking all people with the signs and symptoms of measles in their communities to their nearest clinic. 

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles is the most serious of the common childhood viral illnesses. Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • rash ("Koplik spots": small whitish spots within a red spot on the inside of the cheek and lips, seen before the rash appears on the tummy and the spreads all over the body)
  • mouth ulcers and painful throat
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • light sensitivity (photophobia) and painful eyes
  • diarrhoea in some cases

My child has some of these symptoms, what now?

Take your child to the local clinic, hospital or your doctor. Measles is a notifiable disease and all cases of suspected measles need to be investigated. It is of vital importance that notifiable illnesses are reported immediately to contain the spread of the illness.

This is what will happen:
  • Your child will be examined to rule out other illnesses.
  • Blood specimens will be taken and sent to the laboratory to confirm if the child has measles.
  • If it looks as if your child has measles, he will be treated accordingly and everyone who have been in contact with him need to be screened for signs and symptoms of measles. Immunisations will be given to interrupt transmission.

How serious is measles?

Measles is very contagious and potentially lethal, and can affect vast groups of people in a short time. Especially young babies, malnourished children and immuno-compromised children can become very sick with the disease. 

The paramyxovirus thrives in the mouth and respiratory system and spreads in the air, for instance through coughing or sneezing, making it very contagious, especially in the early stages. The incubation period may last from one to three weeks, and can then quickly spread among children at crèches and nursery schools.

The population group at risk for measles is school-going children, and to some extent, teenagers. It’s for this reason that preschoolers are the ideal candidates to be immunised against it.

Measles is usually rare in babies younger than six months. Babies receive antibodies from the mother during pregnancy, and breastfeeding helps to maintain these antibodies. Adults usually have an immunity that was established in their childhood.

The measles virus can lead to serious complications such as encephalitis, pneumonia, bronchiectasis that could lead to chronic health problems, and TB. Measles can, in extreme, rare cases, lead to permanent mental and physical disabilities and even death.

How is it treated?

Because it's a virus, it needs to run its course.

  • Pain and fever medicine will make the child feel more comfortable.
  • Keep the child hydrated.
  • Keep the room dark.
  • Good nutrition is essential. Multivitamin and immune-boosting supplements may help, especially vitamin A.
  • If a secondary bacterial infection steps in, the doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics.
  • The child needs to be kept home and away from others in the household for at least 4 full days since the rash first appeared.

How can I protect my child against measles?

1. Vaccinate

It's simple: vaccinate. Check your child's immunisation card to see if he is up to date.

On the government schedule, available for free at public clinics, a baby gets immunised against measles at 6 months and again at 12 months. On the private practice schedule, babies get the measles vaccine at 6 months, the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) at 15 months and again at the age of 5 or 6. 

If you're still worried about the link between MMR and austism, please read here.

2. Wash your hands

Teach your children to always apply hygienic practices, especially to wash their hands.

My child was immunised against measles, is he still at risk?

Yes, vaccinated children could still contract the virus, but with very mild symptoms and they generally recover quickly without complications. It will not be life threatening. The preschool booster also helps to protect children better against measles.

Are your children vaccinated? Have you or your kids had measles? Send your comments to and we may publish them.

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