Measles cases on the rise again as new figures show nationwide resurgence

Further clusters of measles outbreaks have been recorded across the UK, as Martha Fairlie reports

Cases of measles in England have spiked over the past seven weeks, new figures show, sparking concerns over a resurgence of the disease.

From October until February 13 this year there have been at least 521 laboratory confirmed measles cases reported in England, according to data published by the government on Thursday.

Comparatively, in 2022 there were a total of 53 confirmed cases across the whole year.

The numbers appear to have steadily increased over the past months: 17 cases were reported in October, 42 in November, 160 in December 2023, and 252 in January.

A disproportionately high rate of these cases - 359 to be exact - were reported in the West Midlands, mainly driven by cases in Birmingham.

The data also shows 71 cases in London and 37 in Yorkshire and The Humber.

The majority of these cases have been in children under the age of 10 years, and most have been unvaccinated.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned that measles is highly infectious and can lead to serious problems such as pneumonia and meningitis, and sometimes long-term disability or death.

It said measles is particularly easy to catch in environments where people are in close contact, such as through increased mixing at summer festivals and schools, while some holiday destinations also have higher rates of the infection.

The outbreak has 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 MMR vaccine is the most effective and safest way to prevent the disease, health officials say.

The NHS said earlier this year 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".

The MMR vaccine is offered to all children in the UK. GP's can confirm whether a child has had the vaccine and give it for free on the NHS.

Two doses can give lifelong protection against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Children who have not had both doses of the MMR vaccine are at a higher risk of developing measles. Credit: AP

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.

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.

Councils are taking varying approaches to curb the outbreaks, with advice on how to stay protected differing from region to region. You can find these here.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

Symptoms of measles include a high fever, sore red watery eyes and a blotchy red/brown rash.

The first symptoms of measles include:

  • a high temperature

  • a runny or blocked nose

  • sneezing

  • a cough

  • red, sore, watery eyes

  • spots in the mouth

  • a rash that begins on the face and behind the ears, before spreading to the body

For more information on measles, visit the NHS website here.

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