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Measles cases: Highest for 18 years

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
mad little girl with measles

8th February 2013 - The number of confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales is at its highest level since 1994, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed.

There were 2,016 reported cases during 2012, with prolonged outbreaks in Merseyside and Surrey and Sussex. Several smaller outbreaks also occurred in travelling communities across England and Wales.

More than 40% of all cases were reported in the North West region.

The HPA says that along with France, Italy, Spain and Romania, the UK accounted for 87% of all measles cases reported throughout the European Union up to the end of November 2012.

MMR vaccine

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness which, apart from being unpleasant, can lead to serious complications, including blindness and even death. Over recent decades the disease has become rare in the UK because of the effectiveness of the MMR (Measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

The number of children who receive the MMR jab during the routine childhood vaccination programme has risen since controversial claims in the late 1990s suggested the triple jab could be associated with bowel disorders and autism among children. The research has now been completely discredited. However, in some areas coverage of the vaccine may be insufficient to ensure 'herd immunity'.

Highly infectious

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, says in a statement: "Coverage of MMR is now at historically high levels but measles is highly infectious and can spread easily among communities that are poorly vaccinated, and can affect anyone who is susceptible, including toddlers in whom vaccination has been delayed. Older children who were not vaccinated at the routine age, who may now be teenagers, are at particular risk of becoming exposed, while at school for example.

“Measles continues to circulate in several European countries that are popular with holidaymakers. Measles is a highly infectious disease so the only way to prevent outbreaks is to make sure the UK has good uptake of the MMR vaccine, and that when cases are reported, immediate public health action is taken to target unvaccinated individuals in the vicinity as soon as possible."

Symptoms of measles include:

  • Cold-like symptoms
  • Red eyes and sensitivity to light
  • Fever
  • Greyish white spots in the mouth and throat
  • After a few days a red-brown spotty rash will appear, starting usually behind the ears, then spreading around the head and neck before covering the legs and the rest of the body

Reviewed on February 08, 2013

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