Hospitals register influx of patients with measles complications

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While there has been a slight decrease in measles` cases with the weather conditions getting warmer in a couple of days, the highly contagious infection remains a serious public health concern in Karachi as complicated cases continue to be reported at the city’s tertiary care hospitals, it emerged on 30 March 2024.

According to experts, the majority of children being brought to hospitals are unvaccinated and malnourished.

‘This month, 80 children have been admitted to the hospital with measles’ complications. Two of them have died. Only today, a three-year-old child has been brought to us from Thatta with post-measles pneumonia,’ shared Dr Samreen Zaidi who heads the pediatric section of the Sindh Infectious Disease Hospital and Research Centre (SIDHRC) at Nipa Chowrangi.

The child reported with severe respiratory distress and had to be intubated, she added.

The SIDHRC discharged on Saturday three measles` patients while as many children are still under treatment. All children are on ventilators. One of them is a one year-old baby battling for her life for the last 10 days.

‘The girl is acutely malnourished. One of her siblings has died of measles,’ Dr Zaidi told Dawn, pointing out that malnourished children were more vulnerable to secondary complications such as pneumonia and had a higher mortality risk.

Explaining how the disease gets complicated, she said the initial symptoms of the illness such as fever, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis were not taken serious and patients reported at hospitals only when complications occurred.

The patient is highly contagious during the first week of the infection, spreading the illness to nine out of 10 people he or she comes in contact with.

This year, three children have died of measles at the hospital where 256 cases have so far been reported.

Sources at the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), the largest government run children hospital in the province, confirmed that a significant number of children affected by measles had been reporting at the health facility for the past many weeks.

`Drop in cases` According to Dr Khalid Shafi of Pakistan Pediatric Association, measles` cases had dropped over the last 10 days with the change in weather conditions.

`This infection has a seasonal pattern and spreads more in the winter season. Parents must take advantage of this time and get their children vaccinated and, if they are already vaccinated, ensure that people around them like servants, co-workers and relatives do the same.

According to Dr Shafi, complications in measles can occur due to the viral infection itself or secondary bacterial infection, which is very dangerous.

`This happens because the immune system gets too weak. The infection also causes diarrhea, leading to malnourishment. In some cases, it attacks the eyes that can be so serious that it can lead to blindness in children suffering from severe deficiency of Vitamin A.

According to experts, the year 2023 was tough for children who reported in large numbers at hospitals with vaccine-preventable diseases, especially diphtheria and measles. The latter claimed the lives of 106 children at two hospitals in the city alone last year.

No official estimates are available on the infections.

According to the PPA data shared last month at a presser, vaccine-preventable diseases were on the rise across the province with 21 districts reporting 122 outbreaks of measles in 2023.

The data showed that measles had seen a drastic increase in incidence over the past four years; a total of 1,873 suspected cases were reported in 2020; 6,293 (suspected) cases were reported in 2021; 4,990 were reported in 2022 and 8,051 reported last year.

The total number of confirmed cases jumped from 675 in 2020 to more than 4,000 in 2023.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 31st March 2024.

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