GPs and other healthcare professionals are being urged to consider a diagnosis of measles when treating children this winter, amid the concerning drop in immunisation coverage.
The RCGP and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have joined forces to create a poster which tells healthcare professionals to ‘think measles’.
The call comes as measles have been added to national guidance for paediatricians for the ‘first time in decades’ due to concerns about outbreaks over the winter season.
The RCPCH has updated its recommendations on the management of children with viral respiratory tract infections in hospital settings to cover the infectious disease.
The guidance, which aims to reduce the risk of respiratory virus transmission, now outlines the main symptoms of measles and reminds doctors to ‘check the immunisation status of all children presenting to hospital’.
According to the RCPCH, many paediatricians will not have come across measles symptoms during their career.
The agency’s annual figures showed that in England MMR vaccine uptake for first and second doses by five years has fallen to the lowest rates since 2010/11.
And no vaccines met the World Health Organisation (WHO) 96% uptake target in England.
NHS England said there were ‘over twice as many cases confirmed in the first half of 2023 compared to the previous year’.
Public Health Wales declared a measles outbreak in Cardiff with seven children confirmed as having the infection over the past six weeks.
As well as updating its clinical guidelines, the RCPCH has also called for ‘swift’ publication of the Government’s ‘overdue’ national vaccination strategy.
In August last year, GPs were invited to share their views on plans on the strategy, and earlier this year, a senior NHS England official said it will be published by the end of the year.
RCPCH president Dr Camilla Kingdon said the strategy must address ‘significant inequalities in vaccine uptake by ethnicity, deprivation and geography’ by ‘ensuring equal access’ to vaccines.
She also said: ‘Having to consider measles in our national guidance for the first time in decades is a disappointing but necessary move.’
Dr Kingdon added: ‘Many paediatricians I know live in fear of potential measles outbreaks this winter. The winter period is always an extremely tough time for all health care professionals, with high surges in RSV and influenza, as well as circulating Covid-19 and Group A Strep.
‘To add another highly contagious and dangerous disease into the mix would be disastrous and could bring our already fragile system to its knees.’
UKHSA has warned that London could be particularly vulnerable to a resurgence of measles due to low vaccine uptake.
Last week, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that a universal chickenpox vaccination programme is included in the routine childhood schedule, by using a combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.