A measles outbreak has spread to five regions in England, infecting 122 confirmed cases.
West Yorkshire has the most sufferers with 34 people being struck down with the life-threatening infection, followed by 32 in the West Midlands, 29 in Liverpool and Cheshire, 20 in Surrey and Sussex, and seven in Greater Manchester.
Dr Mary Ramsey, head of immunisation at Public Health England, believes the measles outbreak in England has come from Europe as people travel to regions experiencing epidemics, such as Italy, Germany and Romania.
She adds that in order to avoid an epidemic in the UK, parents should vaccinate their children against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
To prevent a measles outbreak, it is recommended that 95 per cent of the population is immunised against the infection.
Only 91.9 per cent of children were vaccinated against measles between 2015 and 2016 compared to 94.2 per cent in 2014 to 2015 and 94.3 per cent in 2013 to 2014, according to NHS immunisation statistics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) claims people’s fear of vaccines, along with complacency, means many, particularly young children, are unprotected.
The decision by parents not to vaccinate their children could be attributed to disgraced gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield’s theory in 1995 that the MMR vaccine is linked to bowel disease and autism. His controversial views have since been widely discredited.
A measles outbreak has spread to five regions, infecting 122 confirmed cases (stock)
West Yorkshire has the most sufferers with 34 people being struck down with the life-threatening infection, followed by 32 in the West Midlands, 29 in Liverpool and Cheshire, 20 in Surrey and Sussex, and seven in Greater Manchester
MEASLES DECLARED ‘ELIMINATED’ FROM THE UK JUST FOUR MONTHS AGO
The ‘elimination’ of measles has been achieved in the UK, global health leaders said in September.
The elimination of measles or rubella can be verified once a country has sustained ‘interruption of endemic transmission’ for at least 36 months, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The European Regional Verification Commission said the UK achieved elimination status for measles as of 2016.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: ‘We are delighted that the WHO has confirmed that the UK achieved measles elimination in 2016 and that rubella elimination continues to be sustained.
‘In addition, national vaccine coverage of the first MMR dose in five year olds has hit the WHO’s 95 per cent target.
‘This is a huge achievement and a testament to all the hard work by our health professionals in the NHS to ensure that all children and adults are fully protected with two doses of the MMR vaccine.
‘We need to ensure that this is sustained going forward by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine in children and by catching up older children and young adults who missed out.’
|Region of England||% vaccinated|
Yorkshire & Humber
East of England
Source: NHS immunisation statistics
Low vaccination rates
Dr Will Welfare, a consultant in health protection at Public Health England, told Manchester Evening News: ‘Measles is a very infectious virus and can spread rapidly among communities, such as schools, if people have not been fully immunised.
‘I would appeal to any parents who have not yet had their children vaccinated to get them protected as soon as possible through their GP.’
Dr David Elliman, paediatrician at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, added: ‘Although the uptake of the both doses of MMR vaccine is high in UK, because measles is so infectious, it is not yet high enough to stop [the] outbreaks we are seeing’.
Epidemics in Europe
Earlier this year, the WHO warned measles was spreading across Europe in regions where vaccination rates are low, namely France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Data published in November last year by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in the Communicable Disease Threat Report show that from January 2016 to November 2017, more than 19,000 measles cases were reported in the European Union, including 46 deaths.
The highest number of cases in 2017 were reported in Romania, where 7,759 people suffered, followed by Italy with 4,775 cases and Germany with 898 sufferers. Greece also experienced a measles outbreak, with at least 368 cases, and one death, since May 2017.
These outbreaks occurred due to insufficient vaccination levels.
Dr Ramsay said: ‘Due to ongoing measles outbreaks within Europe, we will continue to see imported measles cases in the UK in unimmunised individuals.
‘This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children when offered at one year of age and as a pre-school booster at three years, four months of age.’
The World Health Organization claims people’s fear of vaccines, along with complacency, means many, particularly young children, are unprotected against measles
WHAT IS MEASLES?
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an injected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.
Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.
The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading.
Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.
In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.
Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious.
‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain.
‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’
Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.
Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
Is Andrew Wakefield’s discredited research to blame for low vaccination rates?
In 1995 the gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing children who had been vaccinated against MMR were more likely to have bowel disease and autism.
He speculated that being injected with a ‘dead’ form of the measles virus via vaccination causes disruption to intestinal tissue, leading to both of the disorders.
After a 1998 paper further confirmed this finding, Wakefield said: ‘The risk of this particular syndrome [what Wakefield termed ‘autistic enterocolitis’] developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.’
At the time, Wakefield had a patent for single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, and was therefore accused of having a conflict of interest.
Nonetheless, MMR vaccination rates in the US and the UK plummeted, until, in 2004 the then-editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by attorneys seeking lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.
The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.
Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practicing medicine in Britain, stating his research had shown a ‘callous disregard’ for children’s health.
On January 6 2011, The British Medical Journal published a report showing that of the 12 children included in Wakefield’s 1995 study, at most two had autistic symptoms post vaccination, rather than the eight he claimed.
At least two of the children also had developmental delays before they were vaccinated, yet Wakefield’s paper claimed they were all ‘previously normal’.
Further findings revealed none of the children had autism, non-specific colitis or symptoms within days of receiving the MMR vaccine, yet the study claimed six of the participants suffered all three.