Official warning: Measles 'endemic' in Britain

Measles has become endemic in Britain, 14 years after its spread was halted in the resident population, the country's public health watchdog says.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) warned that the number of unvaccinated children was now large enough to sustain the "continuous spread" of the potentially lethal virus in the community. It blamed a failure by parents over the past 10 years to give their children the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

This has resulted in vaccine rates falling below the level necessary to prevent the disease becoming established in the general population.

Figures published yesterday show cases of measles in London reached a new peak last month, exceeding last year's monthly record set in August 2007, and are continuing to rise.

There were 95 cases confirmed in the capital and 35 in the rest of England and Wales bringing the total for the year to 461. A 17-year-old victim from West Yorkshire died from the disease in the first fatality since 2006. In another case a doctor working in a hospital cancer ward contracted measles prompting the Department of Health to write to all hospitals telling them to ensure that all staff working with vulnerable patients have documented immunity to the disease.

Measles causes fever, and can have serious complications including pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Fifty years ago the illness killed 500 children a year in the UK but vaccination almost eliminated the disease. Last month's death was only the second in more than a decade.

The HPA, which published the latest figures in its weekly report, said the rise in measles cases in London was linked to an outbreak at a secondary school which had spread to neighbouring schools and nurseries in the capital. It was also the source of clusters in Cornwall and South Yorkshire.

The report said: "Due to almost 10 years of sub-optimal MMR vaccination coverage across the UK, the number of children susceptible to measles is now sufficient to support the continuous spread of measles.

"Health services should exploit all possible opportunities to offer MMR vaccine to children of any age who have not received two doses. Greater awareness of the increasing measles incidence by health professionals and the public is essential to control the spread of infection."

Elizabeth Miller, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: "In 1994 we interrupted the spread of measles in the UK so that it ceased to be endemic. Since that time the only cases we have had have been as a result of importation and spread from those imported cases. Now we have reached a point where there are a sufficient number of susceptible [unvaccinated] children in the population to sustain spread of the disease. We are concerned there may be a return to pre-1994 levels where there was sustained spread. It is quite disturbing."

Vaccination rates against MMR vary widely across the country and are especially low in London. In the last quarter of 2007, the rate stood at 71 per cent for children at age two (first dose) and 50 per cent at age five (second dose) compared with the 95 per cent coverage needed to maintain herd immunity and prevent endemic spread.

Nationally, vaccination rates against MMR fell from 92 per cent a decade ago to 79 per cent in 2004, at the height of the scare over the vaccine's supposed link with autism. They have since recovered to 84 per cent at age two (75 per cent at age five) but are still well below the target level of 95 per cent.

Professor Miller said: "Vaccination rates are on the increase but we have the problem of the legacy of the unvaccinated children over the past six or seven years. People do need to realise that measles is a highly infectious disease and if your child is not vaccinated and exposed to the virus there is a high probability that it will find susceptible children."

Measles was the single most lethal infectious agent in the world until a vaccine was developed in 1963. In the early 1960s, the disease claimed six million lives yearly in the developing world with about 135 million cases. Today the global death toll has been cut to below 350,000 and the World Health Organisation believes it may be possible to eliminate the disease.

In the UK, cases fluctuated between 160,000 and 800,000 during the 1950s and 1960s, with an epidemic every two years, until the measles vaccine was launched in 1970. In 1987, the year before it was superseded by the triple MMR jab, there were 86,000 cases of measles. Vaccination rates against MMR rose to 92 per cent in the early 1990s and the annual number of measles cases fell. But confidence in the vaccine was dashed by publication of a paper in The Lancet in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues from the Royal Free Hospital, linking the jab with autism.

Controversy over the link continued for eight years but is now widely accepted to be without substance. Dr Wakefield and two of his former colleagues have been charged with serious professional misconduct over their research in a case before the General Medical Council which is expected to conclude later this year.

Measles, which is accompanied by a rash, is one of the most infectious diseases known and is spread through direct contact or through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is most infectious before the rash appears.

About 90 per cent of people who have not been vaccinated, or have not had measles, catch the disease if they live in the same house as someone with it.

Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit