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Measles clusters now starting to be seen in other regions, warns UKHSA

Measles clusters now starting to be seen in other regions, warns UKHSA

Clusters of measles cases are now starting to be seen in other regions, following the initial outbreaks in the West Midlands, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned.

In an update sent today, UKHSA reported a further 56 laboratory-confirmed measles cases in England, compared to 118 cases confirmed in the previous two weeks.

Since 1 October in England there have been 521 laboratory confirmed measles cases. Of these, 17 cases were reported in October, 42 in November, 160 in December 2023, 252 in January and 50 so far in February 2024.

And ‘although the initial outbreak in the West Midlands has driven the increase in cases, we are now starting to see clusters of cases in other regions,’ UKHSA’s update said.

In all, 69% (358 of 521) of the total number of cases have been in the West Midlands, 14% (71 of 521) in London and 7% (37 of 521) in Yorkshire and the Humber. The remaining cases were reported in other regions of England, according to the update.

In the four weeks since 15 January 2024, there have been 166 laboratory confirmed measles cases. The West Midlands accounted for the majority of these (55%, 91/166), mostly in Birmingham, although case numbers in that region ‘appear to be stabilising’, UKHSA said. 

Elsewhere, 12% (20/166) of cases have been in London, 10% (17/166) in the North West, 10% in Yorkshire and The Humber (16/166) and 9% (15/166) in the East Midlands. 

Dr Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: ‘As expected, due to worryingly low MMR vaccine uptake in some areas across the country, we are now starting to see clusters of cases in other regions.

‘While parents are coming forward to take up the offer of the MMR vaccine for their children, there are still 100s of thousands of children who remain unprotected and therefore remain at risk of serious complications or life-long disability.

‘But measles is completely preventable with vaccination. I strongly urge parents to take up the offer of the MMR vaccine now to make sure their child is protected.’

UKHSA added that these case numbers are provisional and likely to go up once more undergo confirmatory testing.

The measles outbreak was declared a national incident in January as top health officials warned that the virus would spread ‘rapidly’ to other areas without ‘urgent action’. 

GPs have been asked to deliver a catch-up MMR vaccination programme for children aged between 12 months and five years, and in response to recent outbreaks, NHS England launched a campaign this month for children aged six to 11 who still require the vaccine.

GPs were told to prepare for an increase in enquiries, and NHS England advised healthcare professionals, including GP practice staff, to wear PPE when dealing with suspected measles cases.

But the BMA has warned that GP practices are un urgent need of support to tackle the ongoing outbreak and this week GPC England called for a measles vaccination enhanced service to cover currently ‘unresourced’ work associated with the measles outbreak.

Dr David Elliman, community paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: ‘The continuing rise in cases and the spread to other areas of the country is worrying.  Hopefully the efforts of the already hard pressed NHS will result in large numbers of unvaccinated children catching up. 

‘It would be a pity if we began to see deaths from measles, such as the sad death in the Republic of Ireland.’

MMR uptake rates lowest for over a decade

In November, GPs in England were asked to participate in a catch-up campaign for the MMR vaccine amid rising cases of measles. GPs were also urged to consider a diagnosis of measles when treating children this winter due to a concerning drop in immunisation coverage.

In September, UKHSA said it was ‘seriously concerned’ about an ongoing downward trend in uptake of childhood vaccines.

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. 

GP practices are contractually required to participate in a national vaccination and immunisation national catch-up campaign each year and for 2023/24 the focus is on improving MMR uptake.

European countries saw a 30-fold rise in measles cases last year amid declining vaccination coverage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


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