A measles outbreak in Thailand’s southernmost province of Yala killed five children and infected more than 300 others a month after their parents declined government efforts to get them vaccinated, a health official said Wednesday.
Dr. Songkran Maichum, a public health physician, said officials have reacted by traveling to the infected areas and accelerating the vaccination program.
“The measles virus has continued to spread, especially in the areas where fewer children were vaccinated,” he said. “We found 341 people infected from Sept. 1 to Oct. 9.”
Measles, a highly contagious and infectious airborne disease caused by a virus, usually develops 10-12 days after exposure to an infected person. It spreads easily through the coughs or sneezes of infected people and can lead to deadly complications.
Symptoms begin with fever, nasal congestion, drooping red eyes and susceptibility to light. By the fourth day, victims begin to suffer from high fever and a reddish-brown rash will appear.
“To control the measles outbreak in Yala, a full set of personnel and vaccinations were deployed,” Songkran said.
The Ministry of Public Health’s epidemiology bureau reported 2,149 measles cases in September throughout Thailand. Along with predominantly Muslim Yala, outbreaks were reported in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Samut Sakhon, Chiang Mai and Amnat Charoen provinces.
Gen. Surachet Chaiwong, the government special representative for conflict resolution in the Southern border provinces, told BenarNews that officials met with Islamic leaders to discuss efforts to prevent a measles outbreak. Many Muslims cite religious concerns for refusing to have their children vaccinated.
“Five children who died from a measles outbreak over the past two weeks never received a measles vaccination,” Surachet said. “The Ministry of Public Health and the Islamic leaders have reached out to tell local people that Muslim children can receive vaccinations.”
According to the World Health Organization, more than 134,000 children die each year worldwide, including 54,000 from the Southeast Asian region, because of measles outbreaks. In 2016, it said, an estimated 4.7 million children in Southeast Asia did not receive measles vaccinations.
Dr Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, told The Nation newspaper in September last year that the vaccination coverage rate in most part of the country was at 95 percent, with the exception of the Deep South provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.
Dr. Winai Dahlan, founding director of the Halal Science Center at Chulalongkorn University, confirmed that all types of vaccines can be given to Muslims.
“There is no such vaccine that cannot be given to Muslim people. The meeting at the Islamic Central Board of Thailand today answered an inquiry about vaccinations in the Deep South because of concerns about a rumor that the vaccines have partial mixture of pig,” he said.