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Measles – The outbreak you need to know about

The UK has seen an increase in measles cases in the last few months, what has caused this increase and how can you protect yourself?

From 1st October 2023 to 18th January 2024, there have been 216 confirmed cases across the West Midlands. And data from the NHS suggests that more than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 are at risk of catching measles.

In Europe, reports show that in 2023 more than 30,000 people were infected compared to 941 in 2022.

Measles is a serious disease and can affect those at any age.

Why are the measles cases rising?

The target figure to achieve herd immunity requires a vaccination uptake of 95%, however in 2022-23 only 85% of children had received both MMR vaccines by the age of 5.

This is the lowest level since 2010-11.

This could be due to many reasons. The MMR vaccine had previously been wrongly linked to autism, while this link was discredited in 2010, it remains a common misconception.

Furthermore, due to the Covid pandemic many appointments were missed. If your child has not received their MMR vaccination, please contact your GP.

 Highly Contagious

Measles is highly contagious. The infection is passed on by droplets in sneezes and coughs. The virus is able to survive on hard surfaces for quite a few hours.  Therefore, if someone touches a contaminated surface and puts their hands near their mouth or nose, they may become infected.

Data shows that one infected child can infect up to nine other unvaccinated children in a classroom. It is important to recognise the symptoms of measles early to prevent infecting others.

People with measles are infectious from when the symptoms develop until about four days after the rash first appears. It can have serious side effects such as blood poisoning and brain swelling.

Contracting measles twice is rare, but possible.

Community protection

Measles can be prevented by having the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The more people who are vaccinated the greater the chance of eradicating this disease.

The problem is high vaccination coverage of 95% is needed to give community protection and prevent pockets of outbreaks.

Adults and older children can be vaccinated at any age, if they haven’t been fully vaccinated before. Ask your GP about having the vaccination.

It is particularly important before foreign travel to an infected country. Or before going to known hotspots such as colleges, universities or festivals where large numbers of people are in close proximity.

NHS Guidelines

The current NHS guidelines suggest children are fully vaccinated before attending school. This is through the MMR vaccine covering measles, mumps and rubella. It is given in two doses around 12 months and again at 3 years as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

The MMR vaccine is available to anyone of any age who did not receive two doses as a child.

If for some reason the MMR vaccine isn’t suitable for you, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) can be used if you’re at immediate risk of catching measles.

Contact your GP for further information.

Measles – know the signs to look out for and how to help.

 Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. It can be extremely unpleasant and sometimes leads to serious life changing and life-threatening complications in some people if it affects their lungs or brains.

It can affect any age group but is most common in young children.

Measles is also particularly serious if someone is pregnant.

The infection usually lasts from 7 to 10 days.

 Symptoms of measles

The initial symptoms of  measles last for around 10 days after infection and can include the following:

  • Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
  • Sore, red eyes that are often sensitive to light.
  • A raised temperature (fever), which could get up to 40C (104F)
  • Small greyish-white raised spots on the inside of the cheeks – these are classic symptoms of Measles.

A few days after this, a reddish-brown blotchy rash will appear, this usually starts on the head or upper neck and then spreads to the rest of the body.

The rash itself is not usually itchy and the spots tend to join to form blotchy patches. On white skin the rash will appear to be brown or red, it may be harder to see on brown or black skin.

 When to see your GP

Phone your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child may have measles. Tell them this is what you think it might be, as this is a highly contagious illness, and they will need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

Please also see your GP if you have had close contact with someone with measles and you are not fully vaccinated or have not had the infection before – even if you don’t have any symptoms.

  Treating measles

There are several things you can do to help relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection, including:

  • Ensure that everyone regularly washes their hands and uses hand sanitizer.
  • Dispose of tissues hygienically (flushed down the loo) and wash hands afterwards.
  • They should always cover their noses and mouths when coughing and sneezing.
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce your fever and aching and make you feel better.
  • Drink plenty of water and keep hydrated.
  • Closing the curtains can help reduce light sensitivity and make it easier for their eyes.
  • Carefully clean their eyes using damp cotton wool and dispose of this hygienically.
  • Stay away from nursery, school, or work for at least four days from when the rash first appears.

Finally, if you or your child are getting worse or experience any complications, get medical advice quickly.

About us

Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

Book a first aid course now! Free resources can be accessed on our blog https://www.firstaidforlife.org.uk/blog/

Emma Hammett

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