'Measles? Ag, we all had it when we were young! A rash and a cold and fever? We survived! It made us stronger'
Sadly, the 134 200 people, mostly children, who die from measles each year are no longer with us. The 2.6 million who died annually before the vaccine was developed in 1980 aren't either. They are no longer on this planet. This means that means they aren't able to add their voices to the growing collective 'belief' that vaccinating against this deadly disease is unnecessary.
Measles is a preventable disease. Smallpox, a similar deadly disease, has been eradicated from this planet by vaccination. This is entirely possible with measles, if it weren't for a handful of parents who 'feel' vaccinating 'isn't for them'.
What these parents don't realize is that not vaccinating their own children, also puts others at risk. 'Herd immunity' explains that the more people who are vaccinated in a population the greater the immunity of each individual, vaccinated or not.
These are the WHO global statistics:
Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
In 2015, there were 134 200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.
Measles vaccination resulted in a 79% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2015 worldwide.
In 2015, about 85% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
During 2000-2015, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 20.3 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.
Given these numbers, not vaccinating your child could be compared to signing them up to be a child soldier in a lethal genocide war. Would you do that, based on a 'feeling', because you were a lucky survivor of the previous culling? No parent would. So the only explanation for parents not vaccinating must be extreme ignorance. Sadly, if parents are informed, and still make this call, the only other explanation I have for it is cruelty. As a mother this makes me feel both helpless and angry as these decisions have far reaching implications that involve all of our children.
'The first signs of measles are a high fever, followed by a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks.'
What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. The virus affects the respiratory tract and then spreads throughout the body. It is passed from person to person by coughing, sneezing and direct contact with respiratory secretions.
The first signs of measles are a high fever, followed by a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks. After a few days the rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck, it spreads across the tummy and back eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus.
'Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease.'
Complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 20. The most serious complications include blindness, deadly encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and dehydration, ear infections, or severe pneumonia.
What can we do now there is an outbreak?
Vaccinate! Vaccinate! Vaccinate!
There is no effective antiviral treatment for measles. Prevention is the only option.
'There is absolutely no link between autism and the MMR vaccine.'
A pseudo-scientific paper published in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield (since labelled as 'dishonest' and 'irresponsible' by the GMC and currently involved in multiple law suits) has led to this controversy and decline in vaccinations. Multiple studies have since disproved his findings.
Even if your child is up to date on their routine vaccines, a booster should be given to all children under 6, if possible under 10, during this outbreak. The government is currently administering vaccines at schools and clinics in Gauteng. It is out of stock in the private sector and will remain so. If you are used to the private system, now is your chance to stand in line at your government clinic. It's worth it. You do it to renew your passport. Renewing your child's measles immunity is so much more important.
The vaccine is safe and effective and has been in use for over 50 years. It is important to note that the vaccine must not be taken with other vaccines, and a wait of one month is necessary after the measles vaccine to administer any other vaccine.
Children infected with measles shouldn't go to school, they need to see the doctor and all cases should be reported. Elderly people, pregnant women and young babies are at special risk and extra precautions must be taken to protect them during an outbreak.
Please don't hesitate to use your health facilities, and ask questions if you are worried about measles. If you aren't worried, please consider the facts and start worrying. This outbreak is unnecessary, and the best way to fight is right on our doorsteps.
Please open your hearts and vaccinate your children.