Since 1995, measles vaccination at nine and 18 months has been routine in South Africa; however, coverage seldom reached >95%. We describe the epidemiology of laboratory-confirmed measles case-patients and assess the impact of the nationwide mass vaccination campaign during the 2009 to 2011 measles outbreak in South Africa.
Serum specimens collected from patients with suspected-measles were tested for measles-specific IgM antibodies using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and genotypes of a subset were determined. To estimate the impact of the nationwide mass vaccination campaign, we compared incidence in the seven months pre- (1 September 2009–11 April 2010) and seven months post-vaccination campaign (24 May 2010–31 December 2010) periods in seven provinces of South Africa.
A total of 18,431 laboratory-confirmed measles case-patients were reported from all nine provinces of South Africa (cumulative incidence 37 per 100,000 population). The highest cumulative incidence per 100,000 population was in children aged <1 year (603), distributed as follows: <6 months (302/100,000), 6 to 8 months (1083/100,000) and 9 to 11 months (724/100,000). Forty eight percent of case-patients were ≥5 years (cumulative incidence 54/100,000). Cumulative incidence decreased with increasing age to 2/100,000 in persons ≥40 years. A single strain of measles virus (genotype B3) circulated throughout the outbreak. Prior to the vaccination campaign, cumulative incidence in the targeted vs. non-targeted age group was 5.9-fold higher, decreasing to 1.7 fold following the campaign (P<0.001) and an estimated 1,380 laboratory-confirmed measles case-patients were prevented.
We observed a reduction in measles incidence following the nationwide mass vaccination campaign even though it was conducted approximately one year after the outbreak started. A booster dose at school entry may be of value given the high incidence in persons >5 years.