Measles cases have soared to the highest levels in more than a decade, official figures show.
The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed that a further 118 people have contracted the virus in England in the last week alone, half as many as during the entire month of January.
The total number of confirmed cases stands at 465 – more than the last major outbreak in 2013 – amid fears that attempts to contain it are not working.
Health officials said the West Midlands remains the center of the outbreak, with most cases centered in the Birmingham area, while cases in London are also rising.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said it “remains a concern” and urged parents to ensure their children are fully protected.
The graph shows the dramatic rise in measles cases in England since October 1, driven mainly by cases in Birmingham.
The graph shows the number of cases recorded each month in 2023 in England (orange line) and London (black line).
Cold-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, and runny or stuffy nose, are often the first sign of measles. A few days later, some people develop small white spots on the inside of their cheeks and on the back of their lips. The telltale measles rash also develops, usually starting on the face and behind the ears, before spreading to the rest of the body.
She said: ‘Measles is highly contagious and there is a real risk of it spreading to other areas.
‘Parents should be aware that measles is an unpleasant illness for most children and, unfortunately, for some it can be very serious and life-changing, but it is completely preventable.
‘Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your children. I strongly urge parents to take up the offer as soon as possible and protect their children now.’
The latest increase in weekly cases takes the number of confirmed cases well above the levels of July 2013 (the last significant outbreak), when around 300 were recorded.
The majority (66 percent) of cases have occurred in children under 10 years old, and a quarter (25 percent) in youth and adults over 15 years old, health officials said.
Almost three quarters (71 per cent) have occurred in the West Midlands, 13 per cent in the capital and 7 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber.
A drop in measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination has been blamed, with one in 10 children starting school in England not being protected.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, said outbreaks will continue unless vaccination rates improve.
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In England, 89.3 per cent of two-year-olds received their first dose of the MMR vaccine in the year to March 2023 (blue line), up from 89.2 per cent the previous year. Meanwhile, 88.7 percent of two-year-olds received both doses, up from 89 percent the year before.
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He said: “Measles is more infectious than even the most recent variants of COVID-19, and transmission is possible up to 4 days before any symptoms appear.”
‘With vaccination coverage of around 75 per cent in some parts of the West Midlands, there are more than enough susceptible people who can become infected and continue the chain of transmission. Therefore, these recent documented increases are, unfortunately, to be expected.
“Recent coverage and the launch of catch-up vaccination campaigns will hopefully mean the outbreak will soon be under control. However, we cannot rule out further increases in reported cases in the short term, and health services will continue to feel the pressures of this outbreak for some time to come.’
It comes weeks after the UK Health Security Agency declared a “national incident” and called for action amid a worrying rise in cases.
On Wednesday, Irish health officials revealed that a man in his 40s had died after contracting measles following a trip to Birmingham.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an “alarming” 45-fold increase on the continent, and international travel threatens to increase the spread.
The NHS has launched a vaccine catch-up programme, with more than 3.4 million children under 16 unprotected.