Zimbabwe health authorities yesterday said a measles outbreak in the country has killed 80 people while a cumulative figure of 1 036 infections has been recorded.

A highly contagious respiratory tract viral infection, measles commonly affects children and is spread through sneezing, coughing and by touching or contact with secretions of an affected individual.

According to Jasper Chimedza, the Health and Child Care secretary, the outbreak was reported on April 10 in Mutasa district, Manicaland province, and had spread nationwide, possibly because of church gatherings.

Records point to Manicaland as the worst affected province in the country with 356 cases and 45 deaths.

“These gatherings (church) which were attended by people from different provinces of the country with unknown vaccination statuses led to the spread of measles to previously unaffected areas,” partly reads the statement from Chimedza’s office.

As of August 11, 2022, Chimedza said, a total of 1 036 suspected cases, 125 laboratory confirmed cases and 80 deaths were reported since the onset of the outbreak resulting in case fatality rate (CFR) of 6,9%.

He added that most cases reported were among children aged six months to 15 years and from religious sects who were not vaccinated against measles due to religious beliefs.

“The public is advised that the risk of developing a severe form of measles or dying from complications of measles is very high among unvaccinated children under 15 years,” Chimedza said.

“The ministry is increasing routine vaccination to reach above 95% coverage for both first and second doses in children. Additionally, we are instituting a mass vaccination campaign targeting the six months to 15 years age groups regardless of their vaccination status.”

Chimedza also encouraged parents and guardians in the affected areas to bring their children for vaccination and ensure timely management of measles for free to avoid complications and deaths.

“The ministry has activated the rapid response teams (RRT) in all provinces to avert the further spread of measles,” he said.

“Suspected cases of measles should have specimens collected for testing at the virology laboratory. Specimens to be collected include (throat swabs, nasopharyngeal aspirate, oral fluid, conjunctival swabs, or urine) for viral isolation to confirm diagnosis.

“Other specimens that can be collected are serum/ blood antibody detection or oral fluids for PCR/ genotypes. It is, however, not mandatory to have each, and every case confirmed by the laboratory as clinical diagnosis can be used in the majority of cases.”