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Measles: Why are cases rising and what are the symptoms?

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Measles cases are likely to spread rapidly unless more people are vaccinated, the UK Health Security Agency has warned.

Temporary clinics are being set up to get more children vaccinated after figures showed vaccination rates were at their lowest in more than a decade.

What is measles?

Measles is an infectious disease that is easily spread through coughing and sneezing.

It usually goes away after seven to 10 days.

However, it can lead to serious problems if it infects other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain.

Complications can include pneumonia, meningitis, blindness, and seizures.

Infants and young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk.

Measles can cause death, but this is very rare.

Why have the number of measles cases increased and where have the outbreaks occurred?

More than 200 cases have been confirmed in the West Midlands in recent months, mainly in Birmingham.

There have also been dozens of cases reported in London, where nearly half of children are unvaccinated.

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there are 1,603 suspected cases of measles in England and Wales in 2023.

This number is up sharply from 735 cases in 2022 and 360 cases in 2021.

Measles vaccination was introduced in the UK in 1968 and is believed to have prevented 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths.

The current two-dose MMR shot was first used in 1996, but misguided concerns about a link to autism have caused vaccination rates to drop.

NHS figures show that in 2022-23, 84.5% of children received two doses of MMR by the time they were five years old, the lowest level since 2010-11, when Mr Wakefield was sacked.

What are the symptoms of measles and what is the rash?

  • high fever
  • eyes are painful, red and watery
  • cough
  • sneezing
  • generally feeling unwell

Small white spots may appear inside the mouth.

A red or brown rash usually appears a few days after the initial symptoms, often on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body.

It may be harder to see on brown and black skin.

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How is measles spread?

This virus is contained in tiny droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

You get measles by breathing in droplets or touching them and putting your hands near your nose or mouth.

People with measles are contagious until at least 4 days after the rash appears.

People with mild symptoms are asked not to visit their GP practice or hospital but to call the NHS on 111 or Get help online.

They should also stay away from daycares, schools, universities, workplaces and other group activities while they are contagious.

What should you do if you have measles?

The NHS advises patients to:

  • Take Paracetamol or Ibuprofen to reduce fever and pain – do not use aspirin for children under 16 years old
  • Rest and drink plenty of water
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and wipe your eyes with damp cotton wool
  • Throw used tissues and cotton balls in the trash

You should go to A&E or call 999 if you or your child:

  • have difficulty breathing
  • have a high temperature that does not go down when taking Paracetamol or Ibuprofen
  • is coughing up blood
  • feeling sleepy or confused
  • having convulsions (convulsions)

Pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems should seek emergency medical advice after exposure to someone with measles.

Who can get the MMR vaccine?

The first dose of MMR is given when a child is 12 months old and the second dose is given at around three years and four months, before the child starts school.

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However, adults and children can get this vaccine at any age.

People who do not eat pork products can request an alternative version called Priorix from their GP.

If the MMR vaccine is not suitable, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) may be given to people at immediate risk of measles.

What are the side effects of the MMR shot?

Most side effects are mild and do not last long.

The needle insertion site may be red, painful, and swollen for a few days.

Babies and young children can have a high fever for up to 72 hours.

Researcher Andrew Wakefield falsely claimed that the two were linked in 1998.

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