Public Health England (PHE) has declared a national measles incident after there were 643 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK in the first half of this year.
This figure is almost three times higher than in all of 2017 and comes from a new British Journal of General Practice report, which includes information for primary care on the symptoms and what to do if there is a suspected case. Young people aged 15 to 25 are particularly susceptible to the disease as many missed out on the MMR vaccination as children.
‘Anyone who missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past or are unsure if they had 2 doses should contact their GP practice to catch-up. This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children at 1 year of age and as a pre-school booster at 3 years and 4 months of age,’ said Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE.
The news has been created with dismay by the medical profession. Many children were not given the jab after campaigners alleged the MMR vaccine caused autism, although their evidence was soon debunked.
‘This is so disheartening when we consider how close we came to completely eradicating this unpleasant infectious illness and achieving medicine’s ultimate goal of confining this awful disease to the history books,’ said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.
‘Unfortunately, we had major setbacks in the 1990s when false claims about the MMR vaccine caused panic which led to a significant drop in the numbers of parents allowing their children to be immunised, and the latest figures would appear to indicate that we are still feeling the impact,’ said Professor Stokes-Lampard.
‘GPs and their teams have been working tirelessly over the past few years to restore confidence and trust in the MMR and other vaccines and to prevent the spread of measles, which is a highly-infectious illness and which sometimes leads to serious complications including meningitis, pneumonia and in severe but rare cases, death.’
The sign of measles begins with cold-like symptoms and a fever, followed by a rash starting from behind the ears before developing white-grey spots in the mouth and throat.
Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing, and PHE is advising unvaccinated people against attending large public events or travelling to Europe, particularly France, Greece, Italy and Romania, where they have been outbreaks.
‘We ask all parents to do the right thing, including when returning from abroad, and have their children vaccinated according to the latest vaccination guidelines in the best interests of their own health and so that we stand the best chance of permanently eradicating measles in the future,’ said Professor Stokes-Lampard.