There are fears that the measles outbreak in KZN is intensifying. Picture: AP

Private labs have been roped in to do diagnostic tests as the number of suspected measles cases increases. 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said since the outbreak was declared in KwaZulu-Natal on September 1, 26 people have been confirmed to have the highly contagious respiratory infection. 

eThekwini still has the highest number of confirmed cases, now 17, while uMgungudlovu now has the most number of suspected cases, 14. 

By the end of last week, there were 54 more people who were suspected to have contracted the disease and had been tested. If these are confirmed, it will mean the outbreak has spread to eight of the 11 districts in the province. 

The NICD and the provincial department of health have turned to private laboratory networks to provide diagnostic testing. 

“Health care workers should notify all suspected cases to district and provincial authorities, and should confirm each measles case through submission of a blood specimen and a completed case investigation form to the NICD, which provides testing free of charge. Private laboratories have agreed to courier blood specimens for measles testing to the NICD," it said.

Tracing and vaccination was ongoing while provincial and district outbreak response teams are preparing for emergency targeted vaccination campaigns in high risk areas, including schools in the affected communities. 

Department of health spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi urged guardians and parents  to ensure that their children are vaccinated. 

“Adults who are not sure of their vaccination status should also be inoculated as they too are susceptible to the disease. In preparation for a vaccination campaign, the Department has begun distributing consent forms for children under the age of 18,” he said. 
Meanwhile health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi warned that the department may not achieve the set targets if the anti-vaccine lobby groups continue to mislead parents about the efficacy of immunisation.

“This follows the protests by some communities, especially in Muslim and Jewish communities in some part of the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal which have recently experienced the outbreaks of measles,” read a statement from Motsoaledi’s department. 

The measles vaccine contains gelatin from pigs, the consumption of which is against these religions' laws. 

However, DA spokesman on health and registered medical professional Dr Imaraan Keeka said there was a porcine free vaccine.

“But this is only available in the private sector and at a far higher price. So Islamic jurists have ruled that people can use the porcine containing vaccine.”

The NICD said the use of the vaccine had support from religious organisations by way of statements from the Jaimatul Ulama and the Islamic Medical Association.