North Yorkshire parents are being urged to make sure their children are protected from the measles epidemic after cases soared across the region.
More than 80 suspected cases have been reported in North Yorkshire, York and Humber since the beginning of January this year, with 28 laboratory confirmed. In the same period past year only 29 were suspected, and none confirmed.
Now the county’s public health experts are urging parents make sure their children have received two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Dr Autilia Newton, director of Public Health England’s North Yorkshire and the Humber health protection team, said: “Whilst we are not yet seeing an increase in measles cases on a scale seen in other parts of the UK, we are beginning to see a gradual increase in some parts of North Yorkshire and the Humber. Once measles begins to circulate in communities, the illness spreads very easily and this is why it is important for families to check their children are up-to-date with their MMR immunisations now.”
Measles which spreads very easily through direct contact with an infected person, or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
“As measles is extremely infectious, anyone who is affected by symptoms should not go straight to the hospital A&E department or to a GP surgery. Instead, advice should be sought from GPs by telephone so that arrangements can be made to attend surgery, if necessary, in a way which will prevent spreading infection to others. It is very important that anyone affected by symptoms stays at home until at least five days after the rash starts, to avoid infecting others,” Dr Newton added.
“Where measles occurs, complications can be quite common and can include severe coughs and breathing difficulties, ear and eye infections and pneumonia. In rare cases, measles can cause serious complications affecting the brain and nervous system, and even deaths on rare occasions.”
But the disease is entirely preventable and vaccination can protect children from the virus, health officials added.
Dr Lincoln Sargeant, director of public health for North Yorkshire, said: “Despite the recent national increase across the UK, overall measles is now relatively rare because a safe and effective vaccination - the MMR - protects against it.
“However, those who have not had an MMR jab, or who have only had one dose, can still be vulnerable to the virus. Being vaccinated is very important, not just to protect individuals, but also to stop the virus from spreading in the community and potentially seriously affecting others.”
Dr Sargeant added: “It is important that all children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine to ensure they are fully protected from the disease. MMR vaccination can be given later if missed at the scheduled ages.
“Measles is entirely preventable but two doses of MMR are needed for optimum protection. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. If you or your child has not been vaccinated, or you are unsure, contact your GP or health visitor for advice or to arrange vaccination.”
The initial symptoms of measles may include:
• cold-like symptoms;
• red eyes;
• fever and greyish white spots in the mouth and throat; and
• after a few days a red-brown spotty rash will appear. It usually starts behind the ears, then spreads around the head and neck before spreading to the legs and the rest of the body.