Measles on the rise in KZN

An outbreak of measles in the province is in danger of escalating, because of myths about the effects of vaccinations.

Health officials warn that the disease can lead to blindness, brain infection or even death, among other effects. Mainly children are at risk, but adults can be affected too.

Measles is a viral infection spread through saliva by coughing, sneezing or being in close contact with an infected person.

Last week 27 cases were confirmed in KZN and two in the Ilembe district.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, many cases were diagnosed in people of the Muslim faith.

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The religious concern comes from the fact that the only measles vaccination available in the country, MeasBio® (Biovac), contains porcine gelatin, which comes from collagen in pigs.

Muslim people believe strongly that it is forbidden to consume pork in any form and to make matters worse, the previous vaccine used for measles that did not contain pork is no longer being manufactured.

However, in May the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa announced its full support of the measles vaccination. A seminar on the matter concluded that the transformation of pork products into gelatin alters it sufficiently to make it permissible for Muslims to receive vaccines.

Ballito’s Dr Dinesh Patel said the increase of measles cases were also due to parents who believed measles vaccinations caused autism.

“That is complete nonsense and is a theory that has been passed on from overseas.

“The measles virus increases when there is a change of season and is usually on a high around this time of year.

“Because of their weaker immune systems, children are commonly infected.

“Parents need to be aware that their children are exposed to many germs during the course of the day and this increases their risk of contracting measles, especially if they are not vaccinated. Both wealthy and underprivileged people are under the misconception that vaccinations could be damaging. The virus is dangerous to both adults and children.”

Symptoms of measles include fever, rashes, and flu-like signs.

Complications can include lung infections (pneumonia), diarrhea, dehydration, blindness, brain infection or death. While most adults recover completely from measles, the complications are unpredictable.

The virus is known to be one of the leading causes of death in children worldwide.

According to Patel, another problem that doctors are currently facing is a shortage of vaccinations.

“Medical wholesalers are experiencing a shortage. This should not affect government clinics but it is a concern for private doctors,” he said.

The health department said that the reported cases of measles are being traced with the aim to offer the measles vaccination irrespective of age. The confirmed cases are of people between the ages of nine months and as old as 51 years.

“There are 14 confirmed cases and three suspected cases in Ethekweni, six confirmed cases in Umgugundlovu, two confirmed cases in Ilembe, one confirmed and one unconfirmed case in Uthukela and one suspected case in King Cetshwayo.”

Children are vaccinated at six months of age and again at 12 months.

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  AUTHOR
Erica Abrahams
Journalist

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