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Possible Measles Outbreak In London

Leacsaidh Marlow

Despite measles being considered eliminated in England in 2016 and 2017, London is facing a potential outbreak, with 40-160,000 people at risk of contracting the disease due to low rates of vaccination. Impact‘s Leacsaidh Marlow reports.

There have been 128 reported cases of measles since 1st January this year, with eighty-five (66%) of those being from London. This is significantly higher than the fifty-four cases reported in total in 2022, and signifies a worrying increase in the prevalence of the disease, that could rapidly progress much further if vaccination rates do not improve.

Furthermore, the cases of measles have been rising worldwide in recent years and 128,000 people globally died from the disease in 2021 alone, mostly unvaccinated children under the age of five.

It can be severe and even fatal for those who are unvaccinated

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published a risk assessment last week detailing the possibility of a resurgence in measles cases across the UK, and in particular the danger of a large-scale outbreak in London.

Measles is an entirely preventable disease, but it can be severe and even fatal for those who are unvaccinated, most notably affecting very young children and people  who already have compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of measles include coughing and other cold-like symptoms, a rash across the body, red eyes and a consistent fever, and can even lead to life-threatening issues such as pneumonia and meningitis. Pregnant women who catch measles could be at risk of miscarriages, stillbirths or premature births.

One to two in every 1000 childhood cases resulting in death

The symptoms usually clear within ten days, however, you should immediately call 999 if you have measles and experience trouble breathing, intense confusion, seizures or a fever that does not improve with paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Measles infections can be fatal, with one-two in every 1000 childhood cases resulting in death. 

In order to provide a sufficient level of protection, two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine are required; children typically receive one at age 1 and another just after their third birthday.

To achieve herd immunity, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 95% of the population must be vaccinated, which protects those who are either too young or too vulnerable to receive the vaccine themselves.

Young adults at high risk

In London, however, the percentage of 2-year-olds who had received their first dose of the MMR vaccine is as low as 69.5%, with the average across England at 86.5%, still significantly below the estimated threshold necessary for prevention of measles outbreaks.

It has been suggested that the large decrease in childhood vaccination is in part due to Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021, which resulted in disruption of routine vaccination programmes, and thus significantly fewer people accessing the vaccine over these years.

“Susceptibility is particularly high among 19 to 25-year-olds” says the UKHSA, possibly following a decrease in uptake of the MMR vaccine in this period, due to the (largely discredited) claims from Andrew Wakefield in 1998 that the vaccine was linked to the development of autism. 

This puts young adults at high risk of contracting the contagious disease.

In light of rapidly increasing case numbers, the NHS has launched a campaign aimed at encouraging families to check their vaccination status, and book in to receive an MMR vaccine if they are not vaccinated, or have not received all the necessary doses.

Vital for citizens who will be travelling abroad

This campaign is predominantly targeted at the specific areas of London who currently have the lowest vaccination uptake rates.

Catching up on any missed doses is particularly vital for citizens who will be travelling abroad this summer, as the risk of spreading or catching measles while overseas is now much higher than it was due to the largely decreased immunity rates.

The MMR vaccine can be received by appointment at either a GP surgery or a community clinic, and unvaccinated primary school children will have the opportunity to be vaccinated as part of national school immunisation programs.

Leacsaidh Marlow

Featured image courtesy of Steven Cornfield via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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