In 2009 and 2010, South Africa saw a national measles outbreak. In December last year, seven provinces reported an increase in the incidence of measles.
Virus spread by coughing and sneezing
This childhood disease is caused by a virus which spreads from person to person by coughing or sneezing. The symptoms are flu-like fever, coughing, reddened eyes, and a red rash.
“Measles is known to be one of the most contagious viruses known in human history – but it is preventable by a vaccine that is safe and highly effective,” says Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth.
“Whenever and wherever there is an outbreak, the explanation is simple: People have failed to be immunised.”
Read: Measles can cause blindness
When 95 percent of a community is immunised against measles, the disease is far less likely to lead to major outbreaks. Immunising your child ensures that his/her immune system is strong enough to cope when it encounters childhood diseases.
“Think of immunisation as a soldier who prepares his squad for battle by gathering intelligence through reconnaissance missions,” explains Jordan.
“This is exactly how immunisation works. Immunisation is the reconnaissance mission that helps protect your child’s body if it is ever faced with the enemy i.e. childhood illnesses such as tuberculosis, meningitis or hepatitis B to name a few.”
Tiny sample of the germ develops immunity
The vaccine is in fact a tiny sample of the germs or bacteria that cause these infections, but it is so small that it actually helps develop immunity. Essentially, it helps the body to become a better soldier, which is why keeping up to date with your child’s immunisations is not only one of the best things you can do for your child, but it is also essential to the health of your community, as it takes only one soldier to weaken a squad.
“If a member of the community develops one of these infections, the rest of the community is at risk too,” says Jordan. “In addition to helping your child avoid high risk diseases, immunisation also prevents an outbreak of those diseases.”
While having your child vaccinated is not mandated by law, many schools will request that your child’s vaccine schedule and immunisation records are up to date before admitting your child.
Read: Alert: Measles sweeps across SA
“The vaccine schedule ensures your child is immunised as soon as the child’s body is able to develop the expected resistance to the illness,” says Jordan.
“If vaccines are missed or late, some can be caught up within the recommended time intervals, while others cannot because the child is no longer at risk or the vaccine is not safe for older children.”
The immunisation schedule spans 12 years, and Jordan says that with up to 15 immunisations due in the first year of life, it’s easy for busy parents to lose track.
Immunisation Email Reminder Service
“We have a solution that will help parents stay on top of the schedule: The Tum2Mom Immunisation Email Reminder Service (IERS). Tum2Mom is an informative and entertaining website for new parents, and Fedhealth members receive a voucher code allowing free access to the IERS as part of the Fedhealth Baby welcome pack. Members use the code when registering for the IERS service on the Tum2Mom site.”
Here is a schedule of immunisations as per the Expanded Programme on Immunisation in South Africa (EPI-SA):
• Birth: OPV 0 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and BCG (tuberculosis vaccine)
• 6 weeks: OPV 1 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and DTP 1 (vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) and HepB 1 (hepatitis vaccine) and Hib 1 (diphtheria and tetanus vaccine)
• 10 weeks: OPV 2 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and DPT 2 (vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) ) and HepB 2 (hepatitis vaccine) and Hib 2 (diphtheria and tetanus vaccine)
• 14 weeks: OPV 3 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and DPT 3 (vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) and HepB 3 (hepatitis vaccine) and Hib 3 (diphtheria and tetanus vaccine)
• 9 months: Measles 1
• 18 months: OPV 4 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and DPT 4 (vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) and Measles 2
• 6 years: OPV 5 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and DPT 5 (vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus)
• 12 years: OPV 5 (Oral Polio Vaccine) and DPT 5 (vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus)
Read: Earlier measles vaccine better for kids
The vaccines are provided free of charge at public clinics. Private clinics generally charge a consultation fee. With each immunisation, your healthcare professional will discuss the side effects. Slight fevers, drowsiness and pain at the site of the injection are common.
“Immunisation is an important part of disease prevention and it’s a powerful way to protect your child’s health,” says Jordan. “It empowers parents to protect their children from an enemy they can’t see.”
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