HEALTH officials are responding to a measles outbreak in the north east of England, following reports of almost 50 confirmed cases of the illness in recent months.
To date, 46 confirmed cases have been reported in the north east since the beginning of September, with a further 50 suspected cases. This compares with a total of 18 confirmed cases in 2011.
The majority of cases, both confirmed and suspected, are in unvaccinated school children and young adults with over half of the cases (49) aged between 10 and 30 years. A quarter of cases (24) required hospital treatment.
Julia Waller, immunisation lead for the Health Protection Agency in the north east said: “This measles outbreak is very serious and we are likely to see many more cases before it’s over.
“The sad thing is that most, if not all of these cases could have been avoided if people had been up to date with MMR vaccination. We know that measles is highly infectious and spreads very easily among those who are unvaccinated and therefore vulnerable.
“There are still too many children and young adults who were not vaccinated. Furthermore, if they become ill with measles, they could also be a risk to people who are not able to protect themselves such as babies who are too young to be vaccinated.
“We have alerted GPs, out of hours services and hospitals to ask them to notify us of any cases they come across and we are also urging parents to ensure their children are fully vaccinated.
“As part of the childhood immunisation programme the first dose of the jab is given at 12 months and a second dose at 3 years 4 months. Parents who are not sure about their child’s vaccination status should ask their GP. Indeed, anyone who is unsure about their own status should do the same.”
To prevent spreading the illness, the HPA is advising people with symptoms of measles to:
· Stay away from school, nursery or work until at least four full days have elapsed after the development of a rash.
· Telephone their GP surgery, NHS walk-in centre or hospital A&E unit to inform them they have a rash illness before attending, so that arrangements can be made in advance for minimising their contact with other vulnerable patients.
· Avoid contact with pregnant women, people with weak immune systems and babies who are too young to be vaccinated, as they are more vulnerable to infection.
Measles is potentially a very serious illness which can on rare occasions be fatal. It is highly infectious and is spread through direct contact with an infected person or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The viral illness begins with a fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. This is followed with a rash that starts on the face and upper neck a few days later, and then spreads down the upper body, extending to the arms, hands, legs and feet.
There is no treatment for measles but it can be prevented by the safe and highly effective MMR vaccine and two doses are required to ensure the best protection.
Julia added: “Measles should not be taken lightly. A quarter of the cases in this outbreak needed hospital treatment. You can never tell who will go on to develop the more serious complications of pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
“This is why it’s incredibly important to remember that measles isn’t a harmless childhood disease and why we’re urging people to check they are fully immunised and had both doses of the MMR vaccine.
“If anyone has missed out on MMR in the past it’s always possible to catch-up as the vaccine can be given at any age. Just contact your local GP.”
Anyone who is concerned should contact their GP or NHS Direct (0845 46 47) in the first instance as normal. People in County Durham and Darlington can also call 111.