Public Health England (PHE) is asking parents and young people to check that they have received two doses of Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and to be aware of the signs and symptoms of measles, following a rise in cases across the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area of the South West.
The reminder comes during European Immunisation Week (23-29 April), which promotes the core message that immunisation is vital to prevent diseases and protect life.
As part of the rise in cases, PHE can confirm that it is working with a number of settings and local authorities in the area to investigate reports of measles.
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications. It is now uncommon in the UK because of the effective MMR vaccination programme. Although usually a mild illness in children, measles can be more severe in adults.
Dominic Mellon, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control for Public Health England South West, said, “While measles is now relatively uncommon in England thanks to the MMR vaccine, those who are unvaccinated, or not fully vaccinated, remain susceptible to the disease.
“The cases we have seen recently in the area have affected young adults. It is important to be aware that it is never too late to have the vaccine, so if you’ve not received two doses of the vaccine in the past – or you’re unsure – speak to your GP. There’s no harm in receiving an additional dose where there is any uncertainty.
“Also remain alert to the symptoms of measles, which can include cold-like symptoms, sore red eyes, a high temperature or a red-brown blotchy rash. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention, but be sure to phone ahead before you visit your GP surgery so arrangements can be made to prevent others from being infected.
“You should also see your GP if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has measles and you’ve not been fully vaccinated (had two doses of the MMR vaccine)
Dr Julie Yates, Lead Consultant for Screening and Immunisation in the South West added, “People who have recently travelled, or are planning to travel to Romania, Italy and Germany and other parts of Europe, and who have not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, are particularly at risk of acquiring the infection whilst abroad, developing the infection once they return home and then spreading it to other susceptible people.
“To be protected, you need to have had two doses of the MMR vaccine. The most important message to get out to anyone who may be concerned is that it is never too late to have MMR.
“Since 1 January 2018, 32 cases of measles have been confirmed in the area, compared to no confirmed cases during the same period between January and March 2017. The increase in cases locally across Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire is in line with increases currently being reported in other parts of England and Wales.
“We know that in the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area, vaccine uptake rates have improved in recent years, but these continue to remain below the 95% level required to provide population protection. Uptake rates in previous years, particularly during the late 1990s / 2000s, have at times been lower resulting in a particular risk now to young people aged 15 to 25 years who missed having their MMR at that time.
“This current increase in cases serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the routine offer of the first MMR vaccination for their children at one year of age and a second as part of the pre-school booster at three years and four months of age.
“Children and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past, or who are unsure if they have had 2 doses of MMR, should also contact their GP practice to request these vaccines to bring them up to date.
“We’d also encourage people of any age that is travelling to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccines before they go abroad.”