Measles: Are you and your family at risk?

11 Apr 2019
Measles it isn't just a little rash -CDC Image
11 Apr 2019

Measles has been widely reported on news reports and social media as outbreaks are being experienced throughout the Americas, Europe, and Africa. The U.S is currently experiencing an outbreak that started in 2018 and is set to break the record of measles infections in the U.S since its 2000 elimination. The outbreak in Madagascar has reached epidemic proportions with over 19 539 cases clinically identified. While Sudan has released official statistics indicating measles is the third cause of mortality among infants with 834 measles cases reported by March 2019.

What has caused this outbreak in the U.S, Madagascar and Sudan

The initial U.S outbreak has been linked to travellers who were infected with measles outside of the U.S. Due to the large groups of unvaccinated populations in the U.S, there was insufficient population immunity to prevent an outbreak spreading.

Madagascar has a very low vaccination rate of under 58% and the highest proportion of malnourished children under 5 at 47% in Africa, both these factors attribute to the spreading of measles and the seriousness of complications. 

While South Sudan, five-year civil war has put a strain on the already struggling health care systems, a large number of vulnerable children have limited access to healthcare facilities, increasing the probability of morbidity and mortality when infected by measles. 

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is spread by coughing, sneezing and close contact with an infected person. The virus becomes airborne and can infect a person for up to 2 hours in the same area. 

The National Institute for Communicable Disease compiled a Measles: Frequently Asked Question document which can be accessed by clicking on the linked image below. 


  • High fever of 40 °C
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red eye
  • Rash - starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. The rash is not itchy or painful


  • Lung infection (Pneumonia)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dehydration
  • Brain infection (encephalitis)
  • Blindness
  • Death







What about South Africa?

In 2009 South Africa experienced a massive measles outbreak. 18 000 cases of measles were identified by the NICD and multiple hospitalisations put excessive strain on the already overburdened health care system. The findings suggested that poor vaccine coverage and high population density contributed to this outbreak.

The South African department of health identified infants being the most vulnerable group and for this reason, the 1st measles vaccine was changed from 9 months to 6 months and the 2nd vaccine to be given at 12 months. This adjustment in the schedule increased the immunity of 1 year olds as they will now have received both immunisations. Supplementary immunisation campaigns are conducted every 3-4 years to target children under 5 years. These campaigns aim to immunise children who may have missed a measles vaccination and increase the efficiency of the vaccine.

Why does everyone need to receive the measles vaccine?

Globally the WHO estimates less 70% of children receive the 2nd measles vaccination while coverage of 90% or more is needed to interrupt transmission and prevent an outbreak of measles. Measles is one of the most contagious vaccine-preventable diseases.

Where can I get the measles vaccine in South Africa?

The measles vaccine is part of South Africa's extended programme of immunisation and is freely available at all government clinics. If you are unsure if you or your child are fully vaccinated, go to your local clinic or pharmacy and speak to your health care professional. There is no risk receiving the measles vaccine if you have already been immunised.

Where can I get the measles vaccine in other African countries?

All African countries routinely provide the 1st and 2nd measles vaccination. Please check with your local health care provider about getting where to get your measles immunisation. Check your country's immunisation schedule here. 

In response to the recent measles outbreak in Sudan, Sudan's Federal Ministry of health, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the United Nations Children's Fund a large-scale vaccination campaign is currently underway to vaccinate over 11 million children between 0 and 10 years against measles and polio while also providing vitamin A supplementation.

The information in this article was obtained from the following websites

Page created on 2 May 2019
Page updated on 2 May 2019