Why are we hearing about Measles so much lately?
Some people think measles is a mild childhood disease, but it is not. Globally, over 100,000 people die of measles every year, and most of these are children under 5 years of age. Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children, and people whose immune systems are weakened.
Measles can lead to serious complications if it spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain.
Problems that can be caused by measles include:
And measles is spreading in England.
Measles cases in England and Wales have increased significantly in the past few years. These are the numbers:
2021 – 360 cases
2022 – 735 cases
2023 – 1603 cases
The NHS estimates that one in five cases of measles results in a hospital visit. More than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 are unprotected and at risk of becoming ill from the disease, according to NHS England.
To be fully protected, you need two doses of the MMR vaccine (Measles/Mumps / Rubella vaccine). Usually, it is given at around 1 year of age and again at 3 years 4 months old. However, if one or both doses are missing, this can be given at any time. With cases of measles on the increase, it is a good idea to get it as soon as possible.
Two doses of the MMR vaccine are 99% effective at protecting against measles. It is one of the most effective vaccines we have.
Vaccination rates have been falling over the past few years, and this has led to the increase in cases. We need 95% of the population to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, where the population is protected as a whole through high levels of immunity to a disease.
Measles is also highly infectious. To help show what we mean by this this, we can use this example.
We talked a lot about the R number during Covid. That’s the transmission rate. We were keen to keep it well under 1.
The R number in measles is over 15 in unvaccinated groups. So, in an unvaccinated population 1 case can lead to over 50,000 cases in just two weeks. In a population where 95% are vaccinated, R drops to 1, so 1 case leads to just 5 cases in 2 weeks
Measles can be fatal. Over a 22 year period, between 2000-2022, 23 children and adults died in England and Wales as a result of measles or related infections.
How are the MMR diseases transmitted?
Measles, Mumps and Rubella are all spread through close contact, via droplets. Coughs, sneezes and saliva all spread these diseases – which is why they are so good at spreading in the young.
Measles first looks a lot like a cold. You or your child may have sneezing, coughing, fever, itchy or watery eyes, which are followed by white spots on the inside of the cheeks and lips, then a red rash appears after that. The rash starts behind the ears and face before spreading to the rest of the body. For more information, and to see pictures of what the rash looks like, go to:
Mumps appears with swelling at the side of the face under the ears, which gives a ‘hamster like’ appearance. Other symptoms may include headache, joint pain and fever, which may arrive before the swelling.
You must see your GP if you suspect mumps, but please call ahead and tell them you are coming and that you suspect that is what you have. It is very contagious, and whilst not usually serious, it can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain.
Go to Mumps - NHS (www.nhs.uk) for more information.
The main symptom of Rubella (German Measles) is a spotty rash that starts on the face and spreads to the body. You may also have cold or flu like symptoms, but the rash takes 2-3 weeks after catching the infection to appear. It is spread easily, just like measles and mumps are, through coughs and sneezes.
It can be very dangerous to pregnant women, and can cause miscarriage, or problems with the baby’s sight, hearing, heart or brain.
For more information, go to Rubella (german measles) - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Treatment and diagnosis
Once you have these conditions, there is no cure. Getting a proper diagnosis is very important, so please see your GP if you suspect that you or your child has any of these.
It is important that you call ahead and let them know if you suspect measles, mumps or rubella. These are hugely infectious conditions and they need to ensure that they do not spread to other patients.
About a quarter of cases of measles will require hospital care.
Most of those hospitalised will be children under 10, but older children, teenagers, even young adults and of course vulnerable people can become very seriously unwell.
In the case of measles, mumps and rubella, the old saying that ‘prevention is better than the cure’ is very true – especially since there is no cure for any of these conditions.
Prevention through vaccination is the only way to reduce the risk of harm to your family.
The MMR vaccine is THE most effective vaccine we have, where 2 doses will give 99% protection against these diseases.
Call your local school team if your child has not had two doses, even if you are just not sure if they have had two doses, and one of our clinical staff will be able to advise you on vaccination.
Adults can also be vaccinated against MMR (except pregnant women). Please speak to your GP if you are an adult that has not had 2 doses.
For information about the vaccines we provide, click on a link below:
DTP & Meningitis ACWY
Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio teenage booster vaccine
Protection (up to 80%) against severe forms of childhood TB, such as TB meningitis
The HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination protects against cervical cancer
The nasal spray works even better than the injected flu vaccine with fewer side effects