Merseyside is experiencing its biggest outbreak since the introduction of MMR in 1988. There have now been 210 laboratory-confirmed cases and a further 92 probable cases are under investigation.
Around half of the cases are children under the age of five, but a third are aged 15 years or over and at least 39 of the confirmed cases needed inpatient treatment in hospital.
Dr Roberto Vivancos, a consultant with the HPA’s Cheshire and Merseyside Health Protection Unit, said that children too young to be vaccinated were being put at risk by low MMR uptake levels.
‘It’s obvious from these statistics that people who are not fully vaccinated are not just at risk themselves, but they pose an infection risk to others, such as defenceless babies and toddlers who are too young to be vaccinated,’ he said.
‘Measles is a very infectious illness that spreads rapidly amongst children and adults who are not protected by MMR vaccine,’ he added.
‘It is also a serious illness that can lead to serious complications. On rare occasions, people die from measles. It should not be treated lightly, but it is an avoidable illness and we strongly advise parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated.’
The HPA is advising unprotected teenagers and young adults to arrange vaccination through their GP.
‘It’s never too late to be vaccinated,’ Dr Vivancos said.
The HPA advises children and adults with measles to avoid contact with others, particularly pregnant women and infants as they are more vulnerable to infection. They should also stay away from schools, nurseries and work places until at least four days have elapsed after the onset of the rash.
The HPA is also advising members of the public to telephone their GP for advice before attending the practice, NHS walk-in centre or hospital A & E unit to enable arrangements to be made in advance for minimising contact with others who may be vulnerable to complications of measles.
Kim Mulholland, profesor of child health and vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the Merseyside outbreak was ‘a timely reminder that Britain, like other European countries, remains susceptible to measles outbreaks’.
‘Over half of the 200+ cases were under five years of age, which is not surprising given that more than 10% of British children under five are not vaccinated against measles,’ he said.
‘This provides more than enough susceptible children to sustain outbreaks, which will continue while immunisation coverage is inadequate and measles continues to circulate in other parts of the world.’
Across England, measles cases have been higher in the first few months of 2012 than in 2011. A total of 251 cases were reported in January-March 2012 compared with 200 in the same period last year.
GP reported in September that the rise in measles had prompted EU-wide monthly monitoring of cases.