The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reports that measles are on the rise as parents are being asked to check to see if children are fully up to date with their measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations.
Between 1 January and 20 April this year, there have been 49 cases of measles compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022.
Thirty three (67%) of these cases were in London; 7 of the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) 9 regions had detected at least one case. Forty per cent of cases were in children aged under 5 years and 27% in people aged 15 to 34 years (as shown in the table below). Twelve of the cases were imported or import-related, with the others reflecting community transmission in the UK, including a cluster involving a school and 2 cases in the traveller community.
In recent years, the number of children vaccinated against measles has fallen. Uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine – which protects against measles, mumps and rubella – in children aged 2 years in England is 89% and uptake of 2 MMR doses in children aged 5 years is 85%. This is well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination.
Children are offered the first dose of the MMR vaccine when aged one year and the second dose aged 3 years 4 months. UKHSA is urging parents of young children, teenagers and adults to check they are up to date with their MMR vaccines, particularly before they travel this summer and before attending summer festivals where measles can spread more easily.
Measles elimination was briefly achieved in the UK in 2016 and 2017, but by 2018, measles virus transmission was re-established at a time when the whole of Europe was experiencing large epidemics.
In 2019, there were 880 laboratory-confirmed measles cases in the UK and 82 cases were confirmed in early 2020, prior to the first coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in March.
The public health measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the limitations imposed on international travel, led to a sharp decline in many infections, including measles, with only 2 cases of measles confirmed in the UK in 2021 and 54 in 2022.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said:
We are calling on all parents and guardians to make sure their children are up to date with their 2 MMR doses. It’s never too late to catch up, and you can get the MMR vaccine for free on the NHS whatever your age.
Vaccines are our best line of defense against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and help stop outbreaks occurring in the community.
Measles spreads very easily and can lead to complications that require a stay in hospital and on rare occasions can cause lifelong disability or death, so it is very concerning to see cases starting to pick up this year.
During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw a fall in uptake for the routine childhood vaccinations, including MMR which leaves us vulnerable to outbreaks, especially as people travel abroad for summer holidays to places where measles is more common.
Measles is a highly infectious disease that can lead to serious problems such as pneumonia, meningitis, and on rare occasions, long-term disability or death. Symptoms include a high fever, sore red watery eyes and a blotchy red-brown rash, and it is particularly easy to catch in environments when in close contact with others.
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