Measles outbreak delays reopening of Bundibugyo schools

A health worker gives an oral polio vaccine to a child in Masaka during a mass immunisation exercise in 2019. Schools in Bundibugyo District have postponed the reopening for second term because of a measles outbreak. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The one-week delay in school reopening will enable the district to carry out a mass vaccination campaign for children aged 5 and below.

As schools reopen for second term today, those in Bundibugyo District may wait a little longer following an outbreak of measles, which has so far claimed four lives.

The District Health Officer, Dr Christopher Kiyita, said 119 cases of measles have been recorded. Of these, 97 are Ugandans while 22 are Congolese asylum seekers.

Dr Kiyita said the outbreak was confirmed in the district after the results of four out of five samples submitted to the Uganda Viral Research Institute (UVRI) tested positive on April 26.

“During the first week of April 2023, the VHTs (Village Health Teams) in Butogho Village, Kisubba Sub-county reported cases of children with measles-like skin rash being attended to by the drug shops near Butogho point of entry. The staff of Busaru Heath Centre II acted by informing the drug shops to stop attending to children and encouraging them to refer to a public health centre. 

“A list was started with nine to 10 cases being from DR Congo and two from Uganda. This prompted the district to deliver two batches of samples from patients admitted to Bundibugyo Hospital on April 7 (three samples) and April 18 (two samples) with the results of both batches being released on April 26,” Dr Kiyita said at the weekend.

He added that the one-week delay in school reopening will enable the district to carry out a mass vaccination campaign for children below the age of 5 and also increase the sensitisation campaign.

The cases have been reported in the sub-counties of Busaru, Tokwe, Bubandi, Kisubba, Bukonzo, Busunga, Nyahuka Town Council, Bundibugyo Town Council, and Kaghema Town Council, and of the 119 cases reported by May 23, a total of 82 have been discharged while nine ran away from the health facilities.

“We are worried that the situation may become worse if we allow schools to reopen before carrying out mass vaccination,” Dr Kiyita said.

He said the disease is not only among children but also people of old age.
“We’re still studying this type of measles because it looks severe among both the young and old people and among the patients we have is a man aged 50 and above,” Dr Kiyita added.

The district education officer, Mr John Byamukama, said the one-week delay in opening schools shall be compensated towards the end of the second term.   

“We’re trying to prevent the disease from spreading in our schools, so it will enable our learners to go for immunisation and for the sick to get treatment, and then towards the end of the week, we shall make an assessment of the situation and possibly tell schools to open on June 5,” Mr Byamukama said.

Mr Juma Siriwayo, the director of Katumba Parent’s Humanist School in Bukonzo Sub-county, welcomed the directive. 

He, however, said some parents may decide and take their children to schools outside the district.
“We welcome this decision because we want our learners to keep safe, but this may negatively affect both the academic progress and our enrolment,” Mr  Siriwayo said. 

About measles...Symptoms
Key symptoms are fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes, and tiny white spots with bluish-white centres on a red background found inside the mouth. A skin also develops a rash made up of large, flat blotches that often flow into one another. The infection occurs in stages of more than 2 to 3 weeks. For the first 10 to 14 days after infection, the measles virus spreads in the body. There are no signs or symptoms of measles during this time.

Nonspecific signs 
Measles typically begins with a mild to moderate fever, often with a persistent cough, a runny nose, inflamed eyes and a sore throat. This relatively mild illness may last 2 to 3 days.

Acute illness and rash
The rash is made up of small red spots, some of which are slightly raised. Spots and bumps in tight clusters give the skin a splotchy red appearance. The face breaks out first. Over the next few days, the rash spreads down the arms, chest and back, then over the thighs, lower legs and feet. 

The measles rash may last about seven days. The rash gradually fades first from the face and last from the thighs and feet. The cough and darkening or peeling of the skin where the rash was may stay for about 10 days.