The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has declared the situation a “national incident”.
There have been 216 confirmed and 103 probable cases in the West Midlands area since October 1, with the majority of those cases in Birmingham and among children aged under 10. The outbreak followed warnings that there had been a fall in uptake of the MMR vaccine since the pandemic.
Last November NHS figures suggested that more than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 were unprotected against these diseases.
Parents and medical professionals had been urged to be on “high alert” for measles after the vaccine rate among young children dropped to a 10-year low.
So what is measles and what are the symptoms?
The World Health Organization says measles is a highly contagious – and sometimes fatal disease – which remains an “important cause of death among young children”. It is a viral illness of the respiratory system, which, if left untreated, can have serious health complications including infection of the lungs and brain.
The disease can spread through contact with infected mucus and saliva.
What are the symptoms of measles?
cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and a cough
sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
a high temperature, which may reach around 40°C
small, greyish-white spots on the inside of cheeks.
A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear, usually starting on the head or the upper neck before spreading to the rest of the body.
How do you spot a measles rash?
A rash will usually appear after the first few days of feeling ill.
The NHS identifies four key characteristics of a measles rash:
it is made up of small red-brown, flat, or slightly raised spots that may join together into larger blotchy patches
it is usually first appears on the head or neck before spreading downwards to the rest of the body
it is slightly itchy for some
it can look similar to other childhood conditions, such as slapped cheek syndrome, roseola or rubella.
Measles will usually pass in around seven to 10 days but, in some cases, it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications.
These include meningitis, febrile convulsions, liver infection (hepatitis), pneumonia and encephalitis (infection of the brain).
Can you get measles more than once?
Once you’ve developed immunity after vaccination or suffered from measles once, your body builds up a tolerance and it is unlikely you’ll get measles again.
Who is most at risk of developing measles?
Unvaccinated children are most at risk of developing measles and contracting its subsequent complications. Pregnant women are also at risk.
Any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected by the virus.
How can you prevent measles?
Routine measles vaccinations for children have been in use for the past 50 years.
In the UK, measles is prevented by giving the MMR vaccine. This is given in two doses as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
How do you treat measles?
There is no specific antiviral treatment that exists for measles, but there are several measures you can take to help relieve your symptoms.
taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to soothe fever, aches and pains
staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
keeping the curtains closed to reduce light sensitivity
using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
taking time off work or school for at least four days when the rash first appears.
WHO also recommends that children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements to prevent the risk of eye damage.
Who should have the MMR vaccine?
The first dose of MMR vaccine is offered to all children at one year old. Children are given a second dose of MMR before they start school, usually at three years and four months.
Adults who missed out on the MMR vaccine as a baby and are therefore not immune can have the MMR vaccine on the NHS.
In the 1990s and 2000s, there was some controversy about whether the MMR vaccine might cause autism following a 1998 study by Dr Andrew Wakefield. This caused a dramatic drop in the number of children being vaccinated.
There was later found to be no evidence to link the MMR vaccine and autism.
While the MMR vaccine may not work for everyone and can cause side effects in some children, the vaccine is generally recognised as safe. However, deciding whether or not to get your child vaccinated is a personal choice, so make sure you speak to your GP who can best advise you.
In 2016, the WHO announced the UK had eliminated the disease because of the effectiveness of the vaccine.
When was the MMR vaccine introduced?
The MMR vaccine was introduced as a single dose schedule in 1988 and a two-dose schedule in 1996 with the aim of eliminating measles and rubella from the UK population.
If you were born before that, you may have received the measles vaccine, which was introduced in the UK in 1968.
Since the MMR vaccine was introduced, the diseases have become rare in the UK.