Measles outbreak: Your questions answered

A new campaign has been launched to encourage parents to vaccinate their children against measles, ITV News Health Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports

Parents are being urged to make sure their children take up the offer of routine vaccinations against diseases including measles, as part of a new campaign launched by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Measles outbreaks have been reported across England in recent months, most notably in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Experts have explained low levels of vaccine take-up due to some "resistant" parents, although the primary reason for the issue has been blamed on "complacency" and people "not getting around" to booking vaccine appointments.

As more cases of measles have been recorded, online searches relating to the disease have skyrocketed.

Can you get measles if you have already been vaccinated? And what is the risk of death were you to contract measles? ITV News explains.

Dr Ellie Cannon explains what clinics around the country are currently seeing on a day-to-day basis and the types of conversations that are taking place around measles vaccinations

Why are there new outbreaks of measles?

The most likely reason for recent outbreaks in measles is a decline in vaccine uptake that has been "exacerbated” since the Covid-19 pandemic.

That's according to Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, who said: “We’re not hitting the World Health Organisation targets of 95% uptake for these vaccinations.

"This is important because if we don’t hit those targets, we don’t have those immunity levels in the population, we will see cases and outbreaks occurring and children becoming unwell, hospitalised and suffering needlessly because these are all preventable infections.”

Health experts have said uptake is particularly low in inner city areas.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, said that while there were some people who were “resistant” to vaccination, attitudes towards vaccines are generally getting "more positive".

“We think most of the problem relates to complacency and (parents) are very busy and not getting around to it," she added.

Can you get measles if you've been vaccinated?

Very few people (around three out of 100) who get two doses of a measles vaccine will still get the virus if exposed, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The organisation says it isn't clear why this is. It could be that the immune system hasn't responded as well as it should have to the jab.

"The good news is, fully vaccinated people who get measles seem more likely to have a milder illness," the CDC adds.

"Fully vaccinated people seem also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems."

To those who suspect they or a family member may have symptoms of measles, the NHS offers this advice: "It's very unlikely to be measles if you've had both doses of the MMR vaccine or you've had measles before."

Can measles kill you?

Measles can, in some cases, lead to "severe complications and death", the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

It says measles vaccination averted 56 million deaths being between 2000 and 2021. Despite there being a safe and cost affective vaccination available, the WHO said there were an estimated 128 000 measles deaths globally in 2021.

The health body said this was mostly among unvaccinated or under vaccinated children under the age of five years.

What treatment options are there for measles cases?

Measles symptoms usually start to get better in about a week, the NHS says.

It advises those with the illness to rest and drink plenty fluids, such as water, to avoid dehydration.

They should take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve a high temperature, although aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old.

Use cotton wool soaked in warm water to gently remove any crusts from your or your child's eyes, the NHS says.

There is no specific antiviral therapy for measles, the CDC adds.

What causes measles?

Measles is an infectious disease caused by an airborne and respiratory virus.

It can be spread by contact with infected nasal or throat secretions (coughing or sneezing) or breathing the air that was breathed by someone with measles, the WHO says.

The health body says the virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours.

For this reason, measles is very infectious, the WHO warns, adding that one person infected by measles can infect nine out of ten of their unvaccinated close contacts.

It can be transmitted by an infected person from four days prior to the onset of the rash to four days after the rash erupts.

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