Measles continues to wreak havoc in Mutasa District, with adults now being infected with the disease.
Although measles is often associated with childhood illnesses, adults can also contract it, especially those who were not vaccinated against it.
On June 13, three adults were diagnosed with the infectious disease.
One of them, a 39-year-old female health worker, was subsequently hospitalised in isolation at Hauna District Hospital due to the severity of the infection.
The patient had severe rash, fever, coughing and red eyes.
Two other patients, aged 35 and 40, had mild symptoms and were quarantined at their respective homes to avoid spreading the infection.
On Wednesday, Mutasa District Medical Officer (DMO), Dr Cephas Fonte said the three victims’ vaccination status was unknown.
Dr Fonte said the three were among 400 cases reported in the district so far.
About 38 deaths have been recorded since the disease’s outbreak in April.
A total of 72 252 children have been vaccinated so far, against a target of 74 100.
“An emerging trend is that adults are contracting the disease. One of the three adults, a health worker aged, is admitted in isolation at Hauna District Hospital due to the severity of the symptoms,” said Dr Fonte.
“The other two were males with mild symptoms. They were isolated at their respective homes and encouraged to use face masks to reduce the risk of infection.
“This emerging trend confirms the severity, aggressiveness and high scale of the measles outbreak in Mutasa. Normally measles is associated with childhood illnesses, and the fact that is has started attacking adults shows how intense the outbreak is.
“The patients do not remember if they were vaccinated or not. So while their vaccination status is not known, what is clear is that it was all their first time to be infected with measles.
“The main risk factor for contracting the disease is being unvaccinated, even all the 38 recorded deaths were from unvaccinated people. That is the main driver of the outbreak, and some groups are at a higher risk of developing complications from measles, including young unvaccinated children, people with a weakened immune system and pregnant women,” explained Dr Fonte.
“There are also other situations that can result in a person becoming very vulnerable to the infection, including malnutrition, as well as immune suppression diseases like cancer, diabetes and poorly controlled HIV. These are some of the risk factors,” he said.
Dr Fonte said there are chances that the cases of infection and death are being under reported.
The majority of the fatal cases are from religious objectors who are notorious for denying their children access to safe and effective vaccines, as well as fast-tracking burials to conceal the cause of death.
“The chances of under-reporting the deaths are high as a result of resistance from religious objectors. We have since deployed medical personnel, village health workers, environmental health technicians and traditional leaders to conduct active disease case searching throughout the district.
“The team is in the communities to improve the accuracy of our statistics,” he said.
Measles is a viral infection that starts in the respiratory system.
It remains one of the major causes of death for children under the age of five despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines in the country.
The virus is transmitted by airborne droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and immunizations are among the most successful and cost effective prevention interventions available.
This, however, faces radical resistance from members of some apostolic churches whose doctrines abhor health seeking behaviors.
Despite rapidly increasing measles immunization coverage in the province, measles remains endemic, and regular outbreaks occur.
The most recent occurred in 2010 and killed a significant number of children in Marange.