Up to 21 days isolation urged amid measles spike - what is your council advising?

Split image. Left image: A box of MMR jabs. Right image: School children in a classroom.
Credit: AP / PA

Words by James Gray and Rachel Dixon, ITV News Multimedia Producers

Rising measles cases across England have triggered a new major NHS drive urging millions of parents and carers to book their children in for a missed measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab.

The NHS says it will contact all parents of children aged from six to 11 years, in the wake of a plea from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief executive to instigate a "national call to action".

UKHSA chief executive Professor Dame Jenny Harries has warned measles is spreading among unvaccinated communities, and urged parents to check whether their children are up date with inoculations.

To coincide with the NHS campaign, the UKHSA announced at the end of February it is launching its own drive to grow the number of parents taking up the offer of routine vaccines for their children.

Children's voices, which experts said "resonated" with parents, are used in the campaign, with some asking whether their vaccines are up to date.

Outbreaks of measles have emerged across England in recent months, leading some councils to advise isolation measures in an effort to stem the highly contagious infection.

School staff and pupils, depending on their vaccination status, could be asked to stay at home for up to three weeks if they have become infected or are a close contact of an infected measles case.

Here, ITV News sets out all you need to know about the recent surge in measles cases and how councils are responding.

Where are there outbreaks?

More than 200 confirmed cases of measles plus 103 suspected cases were detected in the West Midlands, according to figures released in January by the UKHSA.

Of these, four fifths (80%) were found in Birmingham, some 10% were identified in Coventry and the rest spread around the West Midlands.

Outbreaks have also been reported since late 2023 in London, Wales, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West.

What advice are councils offering?

West Midlands

Birmingham City Council, responding to the rise in infections, had published guidance on its website, saying "any child or adult who has not had at least one dose of MMR and comes into contact with a person with measles will have to be excluded from nursery, school or work for 21 days and stay at home".

Coventry City Council issued guidance to schools in its area shortly before Christmas, which advises children or staff not to attend school if they are displaying symptoms.

"The individual needs to be excluded from school/college/nursery until four days after the onset of the rash," the guidance states.

City of Wolverhampton Council had asked residents within the area it covers to follow the same advice.

Other West Midlands councils, including Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Leicestershire County Council, had said they were following advice which was issued by the UKHSA for that region.

A UKHSA spokesperson said: "If a child is unvaccinated and is a close contact of a measles case, for instance a sibling, we may advise that the child not come to school for a number of days to prevent the spread of measles.

"The number of days can vary depending on the circumstances. We only do this in certain situations, following an individual risk assessment, and it is the school's decision on whether to implement our advice."

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Meanwhile, outbreaks in London prompted some local authorities to issue similar communications.

The UKHSA warned last year the capital could see between 40,000 and 160,000 cases without an improvement to vaccination rates.

Ealing Council, for instance, issued advice at the start of 2024, asking children with a rash or fever in excess of 38C to be "excluded from school and asked to seek clinical opinion".

Barnet and Haringey Councils have both previously written to parents of schoolchildren to say that those who are not fully vaccinated and are deemed a close contact of an infected measles case could be asked to isolate for up to 21 days.

A spokesperson for Hackney Council, meanwhile, said: "As per national guidance, any susceptible contacts of a measles case [for example, those that are unvaccinated], who are at a high risk of developing measles, may be advised to be excluded from school for a number of days to prevent the infection spreading.

"This is only done in certain situations and following an individual risk assessment by the relevant UKHSA Health protection Team."

Hounslow Council said it is asking parents not to send their child to school if they suspect they have measles and to contact their local GP for advice.

Bromley and Havering Councils were among the authorities in London who said they adhere to UKHSA guidance, where cases of measles are "managed on an individual basis" by the agency.

Councils across England are encouraging anyone who is not fully vaccinated - received two doses of the MMR vaccine - to come forward and receive their inoculations.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), who represent councils in England and Wales, said: "Having two doses of the MMR vaccine is the best possible way to protect ourselves and our children from measles.

"Recommendations about isolation periods are made by local directors of public health in conjunction with guidance from the UK Health Security Agency.

"Councils are urging parents and guardians to check your child's red book to make sure they are fully vaccinated against this disease."

Cambridgeshire County Council

"There are no cases of measles currently in Cambridgeshire," a spokesperson for the county council said in January.

"We have been working with health and other partners to promote measles vaccination uptake over the last year and are prioritising this given the current situation."

Essex County Council

The county council said in January it would follow UKHSA advice and work closely with its health protection team.

"If an outbreak were to occur, we would take advise from the UK Health Security Agency on whether unvaccinated close contacts of a measles case would need to isolate and for how long," a spokesperson said.

Parents and guardians of children without a complete vaccination history have been written to, and the provider of schools immunisation has offered catch-up jabs to children who have missed doses.

The spokesperson added: "The uptake of the MMR vaccination to prevent measles has been vigorously supported by the NHS in our area for some time."

East Suffolk Council

East Suffolk Council said it will support its health colleagues to share messaging to our residents as much as possible.

Warwickshire County Council

A spokesperson from Warwickshire County Council said: "We have been working closely with UKHSA and local partner organisations in response to the rising cases of measles across the country and West Midlands, sharing information about measles and raising awareness of the importance of vaccinations throughout our schools, businesses and communities.

"There are varying levels of MMR vaccine uptake throughout the county and we encourage anyone who has not had their MMR vaccine, or needs to get their second dose, to contact their GP to make an appointment.

"Measles is very contagious, if you think you may have it and require medical attention, please call ahead if you need to see your GP to let them know, or call 111 and avoid close contact with others."

Devon, East Sussex and Derbyshire County Council have all previously said they are following the Public Health England advice.

Anyone who is not fully vaccinated against measles has been urged to come forward for their inoculations. Credit: PA

What is measles?

The NHS describes measles as an infection which "usually starts with cold-like symptoms, followed by a rash a few days later".

Measles is highly contagious. For example, when compared with Covid-19 towards the end of 2020, Department of Health (DoE) data showed that one person infected with Covid was estimated to have passed it onto 1.6 people.

Meanwhile, one person who contracted measles would, on average, pass the infection to between 15 and 20 people.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Anyone who contracts measles, according to the NHS, is likely to experience the following initial symptoms:

  • A high temperature;

  • A runny or blocked nose;

  • Sneezing;

  • A cough;

  • Red, sore, watery eyes.

Some people may develop small white spots on the inside of their cheeks and the back of their lips a few days after the infection has taken hold.

Typically, a rash will also appear in the wake of cold-like symptoms developing.

How dangerous is measles?

For most people, measles can be unpleasant, but passes within seven to ten days without causing any further issues.

Once you have contracted the infection, it is highly unlikely that you will get it again, according to the NHS.

But, in some cases, measles can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications, including infection of the lungs (pneumonia) and brain (encephalitis).

Why are there outbreaks?

Official figures show that in 2022/23 some 84.5% of youngsters in England had received both doses of the MMR vaccine - the lowest level since 2010/11.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in order for the whole population to be protected around 95% of people need to have been given two injections.

There is no sole reason as to why vaccination rates have fallen, but health officials have previously blamed a now-discredited report from Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 linked the MMR jab with autism.

Mr Wakefield has since been struck off the medical register, but his writing has led to lasting effects in vaccine uptake rates.

MMR vaccine

The NHS recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine to give the best protection against all three infections.

Your local GP surgery will usually get in contact - e.g. letter, text or phone call - when your child is due for a routine vaccination.

If you have any questions about the MMR vaccine or are concerned that you have missed an appointment, you should get in touch with your local GP surgery.

Children typically receive their first dose of the MMR jab when they are aged one and get their second inoculation when they have turned three years and four months old.

If you are an older child or adult who has not received both jabs then it is recommended that you contact your local GP surgery to arrange a vaccination appointment.

The NHS has issued the below advice for anyone who is concerned that they or someone they know has measles:

  • Call your local GP surgery and ask to arrange an urgent appointment. Do not enter the premises unless you have been told it is OK to do so. As measles is highly contagious, you may be asked to hold an appointment over the phone.

  • Alternatively, you can call 111 or get help online via this link.

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