07 June 2018

Measles warning ahead of FIFA World Cup in Russia

With one week to go, World Cup supporters are urged to take precautions before travelling, especially with a measles outbreak in Russia.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia next week, but before South Africans rush off to the football spectacle, they are advised to get a measles vaccine. 

Measles is a highly infectious virus infection of the respiratory system and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Europe, and especially Russia, has experienced a measles outbreak. 

In 2017, the number of new cases of measles in Europe quadrupled, infecting 22 360 people and leading to 36 deaths, the organisation noted in a news release.

According to the WHO, Europe reported more than 18 000 cases of measles during the first quarter of 2018. France, Greece, Serbia and Ukraine are the countries with the highest number of cases. Russia reported more than 600 cases.

"At the World Cup, we have countries that are endemic to measles and many countries that have recently had large-scale outbreaks, such as Germany and Brazil," Robb Butler told CNN.

He is the program manager for vaccine-preventable diseases at the WHO's Regional Office for Europe.

"Over the last decade, we've certainly seen a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases in the European region, and measles is one of them. We do have measles circulating in the Russian Federation at the moment," Butler said.

"And that really stresses the importance of vulnerability and the risk that everybody runs if they do not check their status and get vaccinated."

What is measles? 

According to a Health24 review, the main features of measles include a rash covering the entire body, a high fever, cough, red eyes and a runny nose. 

Measles is highly contagious and almost everyone who comes into contact with an infectious person will contract the disease, unless they have had measles before or have been vaccinated.

Although it is more common in children, adults – and especially pregnant women – are also at risk of getting the disease.  


The earliest symptoms of measles are:

  • High fever, rising over three days to 39 or 40°C
  • Runny nose
  • A harsh, dry cough
  • Red, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis) and aversion to bright light

Once these symptoms start, small white spots with a red base can be seen on careful examination of the mouth, usually opposite the molar teeth on the inside of the cheeks.

These are known as Koplik’s spots. These spots are unique to measles and will help the doctor with a diagnosis.


The majority of measles cases can be managed at home, with simple remedies such as paracetamol to reduce fever.

Nutrition is very important. It may be difficult to eat because of vomiting, herpes mouth ulcers or lack of appetite. High-energy liquid foods and extra vitamins should be taken.

Measles in SA

It's not just the threat of thousands of people from all over the world meeting in Russia and contracting measles there, but on local soil we have had recent outbreaks. In September 2017 Health24 reported that multiple cases of the disease were reported in Joburg's East Rand. 

Between March and April 2017, 17 cases of measles were reported in Gauteng. It followed an outbreak of measles in the Western Cape between January and February involving 31 cases.

Image credit: iStock