Measles cases are rising. Is your child protected?

Measles cases are rising in London. In fact, cases have more than doubled in England so far this year, compared to the whole of last year, with 85 confirmed cases detected in London between 1 January and 30 June 2023. Numbers are even higher abroad - with cases rising across some areas of Europe. Modelling from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that, unless vaccination rates improve, London could see a measles outbreak with tens of thousands of cases.

As children head back to school after the summer holidays, unprotected children could be at risk of the disease. It is incredibly important we make sure children are protected – and encourage parents to get them vaccinated against measles as soon as possible.

Measles can make children seriously unwell, with one in five needing a hospital visit. It’s much more than just a rash - it’s a virus that infects the airway, and then spreads through the body. It can start with cold-like symptoms and a high temperature up to several days before a rash appears. In some cases, it can lead to meningitis and infection throughout the body (sepsis), causing real risk to life. It is also highly infectious – in fact, just one infected person can pass measles to nine out of ten unprotected people.

There is no medical treatment for measles and vaccination is the best protection against becoming seriously unwell. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). Children should receive a first dose at 1 year and a 2nd dose at 3 years and 4 months for full protection.

The rise in measles cases is partly explained by the fall in the number of children having been MMR vaccinated. MMR uptake is now at the lowest level in a decade, with only 74% of London’s five-year olds being fully protected.

The MMR vaccine is the best possible way to keep children safe and healthy. Since the measles vaccine was introduced in the 1960s, over 20 million cases of measles have been avoided, saving over 4,500 lives – which shows just how safe and effective it is.

You can find out if your child is protected by checking their red book. If they are missing any vaccinations, it is important to contact your GP practice to ensure your child catches up.

The NHS in London has also been running a polio and MMR vaccination catch up programme through schools since May 2023. If your child is missing an MMR or polio vaccination, you may be contacted by a health care professional and invited for a convenient appointment at a school or community clinic. Please don’t delay when you’re contacted.

To find out more, visit nhs.uk/MMR and transformationpartnersinhealthandcare.nhs.uk/london-polio-mmr

Dr Tehseen Khan, GP, Clinical Advisor NHS England (London)

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