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An urgent measles warning has been issued by health chiefs who say London could face an outbreak of up to 160,000 cases if vaccination rates do not improve.
An alert issued on Friday, warned the UK could see a “resurgence” of the potentially fatal virus with the capital to be hit the worst, according to UK Health Security Agency.
UKHSA said there had been 128 cases of measles between January and June 2023 compared to 54 cases across 2022 – with 66 per cent of cases detected in London.
Parents are being urged to check their children are up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella MMR vaccines and to call their GP practice if they are unsure.
The public health authority said: “Assessment finds the risk of a measles epidemic across the UK is considered low. However, with lower current levels of coverage in London, a measles outbreak of between 40,000 and 160,000 cases could occur in the capital.”
It said assessments also found a high risk of cases linked to overseas travel which have led to outbreaks in young people and unvaccinated communities.
The MMR vaccine is given to children at around 9 to 15 months and a second dose is given up to six years old.
The World Health Organisation has said 95 per cent vaccine coverage is needed to prevent outbreaks among populations. However, in England, the coverage of MMR doses at 5 years old is just 85 per cent
UKHSA said the increased risk of fresh cases in London is due to low vaccination rates over the past several years, which was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. In some groups, such as 2-year-olds, the coverage of the first MMR vaccine dose is as low as 69 per cent.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA Consultant Epidemiologist said: “Measles can be a serious infection that can lead to complications, especially in young children and those with weakened immune systems. Due to longstanding sub-optimal vaccine uptake, there is now a very real risk of seeing big outbreaks in London.
“Measles spreads very easily but is preventable. To help protect ourselves, our families and those around us it is vital we all ensure we are vaccinated with two doses of the MMR vaccine, free on the NHS whatever your age. Parents can check their children’s red book to see if they are up to date or if you’re not sure anyone can call their GP practice. It’s important everyone is fully vaccinated before travelling overseas this summer.”
The NHS’s top nurse for London, Jane Clegg, said GPs had been calling more than 10,000 parents of unvaccinated children, and booking in hundreds for an appointment.
What are the symptoms of measles?
Symptoms can include high body temperature, a runny or blocked nose, coughing and or sneezing and sore and red watery eyes.
Small white spots may appear inside the mouth and a blotchy rash with raised bumps that are usually not itchy.
The NHS advises people to call their GP or NHS 111 immediately if they suspect they or their child has measles, or if they have been in close contact with someone who has had measles and are unvaccinated, are pregnant or have a weakened immune system.