South Africa now faces its fourth outbreak of mainly childhood diseases since last year. This follows the confirmation of a diphtheria outbreak by the National Department of Health last week after cases were recorded in Kwazulu-Natal and in the Western Cape.
Diphtheria is a serious infection that mainly affects children and it spreads through respiratory droplets or contact with sores. Its symptoms include sore throat, fever, and swollen glands.
Earlier this month, the National Institutes for Communicable Diseases(NICD) also reported that South Africa is currently experiencing a mumps outbreak for the first time in two decades. The country is also still trying to contain the spread of measles and whooping cough after outbreaks were reported towards the end of last year.
POTENTIAL LONG-LASTING EFFECTS ON CHILD HEALTH
Speaking to Health-e News, Dr Michelle Groome, head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD says these outbreaks may have long-lasting effects on a child’s health.
She stated that although these diseases(diphtheria, mumps, measles, and whooping cough) may be mild complications can also occur. This makes vaccinating children vital to prevent severe diseases.
“Conditions like diphtheria and measles can be very dangerous and can result in death. Many children died due to these conditions before the introduction of vaccines to prevent them. It is important for children to catch up on any missed vaccinations” explains Groome.
THE MAIN DRIVING FACTORS BEHIND CHILDHOOD DISEASE
Groome says restrictions put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic to control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, like social distancing, restricted movement of people and mask-wearing led to reduced transmission of other diseases.
She says many childhood diseases spread from person to person. So the decreased circulation and transmission during the last 3 years led to lower exposure to these diseases.
“Restrictions have now been lifted and we are back to pre-Covid conditions, with opportunities for disease to spread more easily again. Also, children may have missed their routine vaccinations during this time. This leads to an increase in the number of children who are susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases,” says Groome.
UNICEF Flagship report highlights that 1 in 5 children in South Africa are under-immunised as the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted childhood vaccination programmes.
Some diseases like measles, whooping cough(pertussis) and diphtheria have effective vaccines available through the routine immunisation programme in South Africa, which can prevent severe diseases. But while there is a mumps vaccine it is not available in the public sector.
Dr Ayanda Mbuli, General Manager of Health Policy and Clinical Advisory at AfriCentric Group, says the factors driving the latest mumps outbreak in South Africa are still under investigation.
“However, there is speculation that the varying vaccine coverage in South Africa of 60-90% and lowered population immunity following Covid-19 precautions may have a part to play. There is no cure for this viral infection, however, it is essential to manage the symptoms and prevent complications,” says Mbuli. – Health-e News.