More than 400 people in England have been struck down with measles so far this year, new figures reveal.
Between January 1 and May 9, 440 cases were confirmed, with London being the worst hit, according to data from Public Health England (PHE).
PHE claims travel between European countries experiencing measles epidemics is behind England’s outbreak, as well as people failing to take up the recommended measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: ‘The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were children.’
Romania, Italy, Germany, Greece and France are all experiencing unprecedented cases of the highly infectious, life-threatening condition.
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.
More than 400 people in England have been struck down with measles so far in 2018 (stock)
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.’
WHAT WERE THE MEASLES, MUMPS AND RUBELLA VACCINATION RATES IN TWO-YEAR-OLDS ACROSS ENGLAND IN 2015-TO-2016?
|Region of England
Yorkshire & Humber
East of England
Source: NHS immunisation statistics
Where in England are outbreaks occurring?
London has had the most measles cases, with a confirmed 164 incidences so far this year.
This is followed by the South East where 86 people have suffered since January 1.
The West Midlands has had 78 incidences and the South West 42.
West Yorkshire is also experiencing a local outbreak with 37 confirmed cases in just over five months.
Officials urge people to get vaccinated
Dr Ramsay said: ‘The measles outbreaks we are currently seeing in England are linked to ongoing large outbreaks in Europe.
‘The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were children.
‘Anyone who missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past or are unsure if they had two doses should contact their GP practice to catch-up.
‘This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children at 1 year of age and as a pre-school booster at three years and four months of age.
She added: ‘We’d also encourage people to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccine before travelling to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks.
‘The UK recently achieved World Health Organization (WHO) measles elimination status and so the overall risk of measles to the UK population is low, however, we will continue to see cases in unimmunised individuals and limited onward spread can occur in communities with low MMR coverage and in age groups with very close mixing.’
The WHO claims people’s fear of vaccines, along with complacency, means many, particularly young children, are unprotected.
To prevent a measles outbreak, 95 per cent of the population should be vaccinated (stock)
Epidemics in Europe
Earlier this year, the WHO warned measles was spreading across Europe in regions where vaccination rates are low, such as Poland, 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 EU, 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.
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.’
WHAT IS MEASLES, WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW CAN YOU CATCH IT?
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