Dept confirms four measles deaths, 940 cases

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Health has confirmed that four people have died since an outbreak of measles earlier this year.

In addition, there are at least 940 cases of measles reported in the country.

The first victim was a 56-year-old woman from Mpumalanga. The other three victims included a four-year-old, a two year-old and a seven-month old baby - all from Gauteng.

According to the department, Gauteng has the highest number with 91 percent of the total confirmed cases, while other provinces had significantly smaller numbers.

"While the number of cases was significantly higher than the corresponding period last year, we have found that this was a localised outbreak," said Deputy Health Minister Molefi Sefularo.

"Gauteng is a densely populated province so it is easy for any pandemic to spread."

He said one striking feature of the measles outbreak was that while it has affected children in poor communities, it has also been concentrated among relatively well off children, predominantly in the 15-19 old age group.

"We believe that in both groups, the underlying cause has been failure by the parents or guardians to take children for immunisation for both the initial and follow-up doses."

The department has called on everyone aged between nine months and 20 years to be immunised against measles, adding that even if they were immunised previously against the deadly disease - children must take the jab again.

"Vaccines do not expire in the human body, but following the recent confirmed cases, we have to take a precautionary measure of vaccinating those most at risk again," Sefularo said.

He said the department, together with its partners embarked on a massive measles immunisation campaign since Monday.

He said clinics across the country were already geared up with the necessary measles vaccines. Health officials and nurses will visit schools to administer the immunisations.

"Parents, caregivers and training institutions should ensure that all children receive their additional dose of measles vaccine.

"Health workers will be visiting clinics, schools and crSches throughout the country and Gauteng in particular, for immunisation.

"Consent letters have already been sent to all schools in the province and parents are urged to sign consent for administration of an additional dose of the measles vaccine."

World Health Organization (WHO) representative in South Africa, Stella Anyangwe, said infections have increased because many people were not immunised against the potentially fatal disease.

"South Africa has an excellent vaccine and people need to access it and protect themselves."

Measles spreads easily from person to person, through either coughing or sneezing. Its symptoms include a runny nose, red infected eyes, fever and a distinctive rash.

Complications include encephalitis, brain damage, pneumonia, blindness, ear infections and deafness. The disease can be fatal.

Both the department and the WHO have urged members of the public who experience these signs and symptoms to visit their nearest health facility immediately, for free tests and treatment.

Each year, the national government dedicates R80-million to vaccination measures for all children under the age of 12.