Public warned to get vaccinated as measles cases rise six-fold since 2014

Public Health England said one man, 61, died from swelling of the brain caused by the infection

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Friday 27 December 2019 14:38 GMT
The World Health Organization warns of global rise in measles cases

The number of measles cases in England has risen six-fold since 2014, with health officials urging the public to check their vaccinations are up to date.

Public Health England also warned of outbreaks in areas where vaccination coverage was low and revealed a 61-year-old man died from measles-related complications in August this year.

There had been 667 confirmed cases of measles by September compared with 101 cases for the whole of 2014.

Although numbers are down compared with last year, which saw 829 cases by September, Public Health England data shows the vaccination rate for England is falling, meaning more people are at risk from the disease, which is thought to have killed 140,000 people worldwide in 2018.

Most of those who died were children aged under five.

The World Health Organisation stripped the UK of its measles-free status earlier this year because of the fall in vaccination coverage. The WHO considers the UK as now having “endemic measles transmission”.

Measles, mumps and rubella are notifiable diseases, which means healthcare staff are legally required to inform local health protection teams of all suspected cases. Across the country, samples are taken and tested to confirm cases.

There were 135 confirmed cases in England between July and September this year, with young people predominantly affected.

In 80 per cent of cases, the patient was not immunised and in a third of overall cases, those infected had to be admitted to hospital.

Vaccination rates for children aged five fell to just 86 per cent in England over the same period, with some regions of the country falling further. Vaccination rates in London dropped to just 75 per cent.

The capital was also worst-hit by infections, with a total of 56 cases of measles and 99 cases of mumps confirmed for the three-month period.

There have also been small clusters of infection in the east Midlands, east of England, southeast, southwest and Yorkshire and Humber regions.

The 61-year-old man who died suffered measles encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. He was exposed to the virus during a flight and is thought to have had underlying immunosuppression.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at Public Health England, said: “We continue to see measles cases and small outbreaks reported across the country. Anyone who has not received two doses of the MMR vaccine is at risk.

“Measles is very easy to catch and can kill. Fortunately, we have a very safe and effective vaccine that can stop measles from spreading and save lives.

“If you’re unsure if you are up to date with your two doses of MMR vaccine contact your GP practice. It’s never too late to protect yourself and others.”

Public Health England has also warned of outbreaks taking place across Europe, with 13,331 cases of measles reported to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in the 12 months to September.

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