Measles cases across Europe have hit a record high, causing 37 deaths this year. New figures from the World Health Organisation show a staggering 41,000 cases of measles in the first half of 2018 alone. In 2016, there were just 5,273 cases across the European region.
Although the WHO confirmed that UK had eliminated measles in 2016, there have been 828 cases in England so far this year. These cases have been caused largely by travel across mainland Europe where outbreaks have occurred.
The majority of UK cases are young adults and teenagers who weren’t vaccinated as children.
Experts attribute the measles spike to poor uptake of the vaccine now having a profound effect. The MMR vaccine was falsely linked to autism in later discredited research. However the doubt surrounding the MMR vaccine has affected its uptake.
The problem is high vaccination coverage of 95% is needed to give community protection and prevent pockets of outbreaks. In 2016, the Vaccine Confidence Project found the European region was the most sceptical in the world concerning the safety of vaccines.
In this current outbreak, seven countries in Europe have seen over 1,000 cases of infection in children and adults. These countries are: France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine.
Ukraine tops the list with 23,000 measles cases this year – over half all the known cases. Serbia reports the largest number of measles-related deaths at 14.
The head of Public Health England encourages anyone who missed their MMR vaccine, or who is unsure they received both doses of the vaccine, to get up to date.
It is particularly important before foreign travel to an infected country. Or before going to known hotspots such as colleges, universities or festivals where large numbers of people are in close proximity.
Measles is highly contagious. The infection is passed on by droplets in sneezes and coughs. The virus is able to survive on hard surfaces for quite a few hours. Therefore, if someone touches a contaminated surface and puts their hands near their mouth or nose, they may become infected.
People with measles are infectious from when the symptoms develop until about four days after the rash first appears. It can have serious side effects such as blood poisoning and brain swelling.
Contracting measles twice is rare, but possible.
The current NHS guidelines suggest children are fully vaccinated before attending school. This is through the MMR vaccine covering measles, mumps and rubella. It is given in two doses around 12 months and again at 3 years as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
The MMR vaccine is available to anyone of any age who did not receive two doses as a child.
If for some reason the MMR vaccine isn’t suitable for you, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) can be used if you’re at immediate risk of catching measles.
Contact your GP for further information.
Measles – know the signs to look out for and what can be done to help.
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. It can be extremely unpleasant and sometimes leads to serious life changing and life threatening complications in some people if it affects their lungs or brains.
It can affect any age group but is most common in young children.
Measles is also particularly serious if someone is pregnant.
The infection usually lasts from 7 to 10 days.
Symptoms of measles
The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after infection and can include the following:
Cold-like symptoms; such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
Sore, red eyes that are often sensitive to light
A raised temperature (fever), which could get up to 40C (104F)
Small greyish-white raised spots on the inside of the cheeks – these are classic symptoms of Measles.
A few days after this, a reddish-brown blotchy rash will appear, this usually starts on the head or upper neck and then spreads to the rest of the body.
When to see your GP
Phone your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child may have measles. Tell them this is what you think it might be, as this is a highly contagious illness and they will need to make arrangement to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
Please also see your GP if you have had close contact with someone with measles and you are not fully vaccinated or haven’t had the infection before – even if you don’t have any symptoms.
There are several things you can do to help relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection, including:
Ensuring that everyone regularly washes their hands and uses hand sanitizer.
Tissues should be disposed of hygienically (flushed down the loo) and they should always clean their hands after.
They should always cover their noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing.
Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce your fever and aching and make you feel better
Drinking plenty of water and keep hydrated.
Closing the curtains can help reduce light sensitivity and make it easier for their eyes.
Carefully clean their eyes using damp cotton wool and dispose of this hygienically.
Staying away from nursery, school or work for at least four days from when the rash first appears
Finally, if you or your child are getting worse or experience any complications, get medical advice quickly.