Measles outbreak: GPs put on high alert as cases already more than double 2017 total

There were 274 cases of the disease during 2017, but there have already been 643 cases this year

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 03 July 2018 11:04 BST
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UK measles outbreak: NHS advise anyone showing symptoms to stay at home

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GPs have been warned that measles remains a very real threat in the UK after cases in the first six months of 2018 were already more that twice last year’s total.

Writing in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) senior Public Health England (PHE) officials told GPs that there is an “ongoing threat” of the disease.

This is despite World Health Organisation (WHO) officials last year declaring measles was effectively eradicated in the UK and that uptake of protective vaccines had recovered after the autism scandal of the 1990s.

Outbreaks in the UK have been driven by holiday-makers and visitors from Europe, where there is an ongoing outbreak that has caused 48 deaths since 2016.

According to data from Public Health England, there has been a steep rise in the number of cases across England in 2018.

There were 274 cases in the whole of 2017, but between 1 January and 18 June this year there were 643 cases.

Elimination of measles can be verified once a country has sustained “interruption of endemic transmission” for at least 36 months, according to the WHO.

The UK has also reached the WHO target for 95 per cent of five-year-olds to receive the first dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The new article, penned by Dr Maliha Moten, who is part of PHE’s West Midlands Health Protection Team, states: “Despite this progress, measles remains a threat to the UK population.”

It describes the clinical features of measles and the key actions for GPs dealing with a suspected case.

It states there have been several outbreaks across Europe in countries where MMR uptake has been low historically, including Romania, France, Greece, and Italy.

The latest British cases are “mainly linked to importations from Europe” and as a result, PHE has declared a national measles incident.

“Recent outbreaks of measles have highlighted its ongoing threat,” the article states.

In June, PHE urged young adults and teenagers planning to go to Europe during the summer to check they are vaccinated against measles.

It called on would-be travellers to check they have had their MMR jabs.

Uptake of the MMR vaccine fell heavily in the late 1990s following the publication of research by Andrew Wakefield which suggested a possible link between the inoculation and autism.

Experts have widely discredited his study and he was struck off the medical register in 2010.

PHE said that while vaccine uptake levels in the UK in young children are currently very high, coverage levels dipped to a low of 80 per cent in 2003.

It said this means there are significant numbers of unprotected teenagers and young adults who could contract measles.

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness and can be deadly in some cases.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “In the early 2000s there was a fall in MMR vaccination coverage in children and as a consequence, we are now seeing measles cases in young adults.

“Measles can be more serious in adults with a higher likelihood of hospitalisation and complications arising.

“Measles is circulating in England and the rest of Europe. We often think about what travel-related vaccines we might need before going on holiday, but it’s also important to check that we are up to date with routine vaccinations like MMR.

“If you are unsure if you have had two doses of MMR call your GP practice to check and catch up if needed.”

Additional reporting by PA

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