Warning of further measles outbreaks as cases rise

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Health officials have warned of further measles outbreaks across England after cases in the West Midlands rose by more than 30% in less than a week.

The region has seen the largest surge in cases outside London, with more than 300 suspected infections reported between 23 October last year and Monday.

Dr Ronny Cheung, children’s consultant, warned the infection “at best will cause children great discomfort and at worst deaths”.

Official figures show uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine across the country is at its lowest point in more than a decade.

In 2022/23, some 84.5% of youngsters in the country had received both doses of the jab by the time they were five years old – the lowest level since 2010/11. Up to 92.5% had received one dose, figures show.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data released on Monday has shown there were 198 lab-confirmed cases in the West Midlands and 104 “likely” cases.

The majority (80%) have been found in Birmingham while 8% were identified in Coventry, with the rest spread across surrounding areas.

This has risen from 133 confirmed and 96 suspected cases,  reported on 11 October last year.

Unvaccinated children who come into contact with the disease are being advised to stay at home for 21 days.

Dr Cheung, officer for health services at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said: “[We need to] reassure people about the benefits and remind people of the potential risks of measles, which I think a lot of people have forgotten about.”

Asked if the country would see more outbreaks outside of the West Midlands, he said: “I’m afraid to say that we almost certainly will, partly because we know that vaccination rates are very low and they are not equally distributed.

“There are areas where vaccination rates are much lower than others, usually in urban conurbations.

‘One in 5,000 die’

“Also measles is incredibly contagious, so if you have pockets where lots of people are not immunised, you only need a few cases to cause a pretty significant outbreak. So, unfortunately this is something that is going to occur.”

Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, urged people to get vaccinated.

“About one in 1,000 people with measles develop inflammation of the brain and even in high-income countries like the UK, about one in 5,000 die from the infection,” she said.

“Measles is often more severe in adults. Apart from managing the symptoms of measles, there is no treatment.

“There is no upper age limit for vaccination, so if you or your loved ones have missed out, now is the time to get that protection. We can stop this infection in its tracks with vaccination.”