Measles Scare in UK, Parents Urged to Go in for Vaccination

by Medindia Content Team on Sep 1 2007 11:22 AM

Stories of Englishmen and women running away scared at the very sight of neem leaves are part of the colonial lore.

Neem was and is seen in India as some kind of protection against measles. And for the English measles was a dreaded M word, it almost meant a certain death.

But now the disease seems to have penetrated their own island, and authorities are worried.

To add to the irony of the situation, there are now reports that the disease has spread from Britain to other countries.

Last year, three cases in the United States were linked to Britain by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles, which can be life threatening and cause severe disabilities, is most common among children aged one to four who have not been immunized, but can strike older children and adults too.

And it is a highly contagious airborne pathogen which spreads primarily via the respiratory system. The virus is transmitted in respiratory secretions, and can be passed from person to person via aerosol droplets containing virus particles, such as those produced by a coughing patient.

According to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), there have been 480 confirmed cases of measles in the United Kingdom so far this year.

That compares with a provisional total of 756 cases last year, the highest number recorded since current monitoring began in 1995. "The number of cases is increasing at a higher rate than usual for this time of year," the HPA said.

More samples are arriving in HPA laboratories every day with about half testing positive, the agency said.

It was unable to explain the jump but parents not vaccinating their children and lower uptake of the second MMR dose are thought to be factors.

MMR vaccine is a three part vaccine, given by injection, which is to protect (immunize) against measles, mumps and rubella or German measles.

In the UK it is given to children at 12 to 15 months, with a reinforcing dose (a booster) before school, usually between 3 and 5 years.

Unless approximately 95 percent of a population is vaccinated, outbreaks are likely. In recent years, Britain's vaccination rate has hovered around 85 percent.

Vaccination rates dropped sharply after claims made in 1998 that the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps and rubella) was linked to autism — claims that all credible medical evidence has refuted. The scene has since considerably improved, but it is not clear whether parents pay enough attention to the need for the jabs.

Schools in the UK are set to re-open in a week. Hence concerns are raising that any slackness could trigger a major outbreak. The health authorities are urging parents to go in for the MMR vaccine without any further delay.

"Over the summer holidays, we have seen more cases of measles being reported than we would normally expect," said Dr. Mary Ramsay, a consultant epidemiologist with the HPA. "Now is the time parents will be buying their children a new school uniform to prepare for the school year ahead, but being prepared to avoid infection is even more important," Ramsay said. Parents should think about adding the MMR vaccine to their back to school to-do list."