Measles outbreak hits northeast England

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 31 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f662
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Northeast England has seen a serious outbreak of measles, with more than 100 confirmed or suspected cases and 29 patients needing hospital treatment.

The Health Protection Agency said that there had been 56 confirmed cases in the region and a further 49 suspected cases since the beginning of September last year. This compares with a total of 18 confirmed cases in 2011 and 11 cases in 2010.

Most of the cases are in unvaccinated schoolchildren and young adults, and immunisation officials are urging parents to ensure that their children have the required two doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The agency said that it was seeing increasing numbers of reports of measles nationwide, with 1380 confirmed cases in England and Wales to the end of September 2012, up from 1086 cases in the whole of 2011. Last year large outbreaks occurred in Liverpool, which had over 500 confirmed cases, and in the south east of England. A number of outbreaks of measles also occurred among travelling communities.1

Julia Waller, lead on immunisation for the Health Protection Agency in the north east, said, “This measles outbreak is very serious, and we are likely to see many more cases before it’s over. The sad thing is that most if not all of these cases could have been avoided if people had been up to date with MMR vaccination.” She added, “There are still too many children and young adults who were not vaccinated. Furthermore, if they become ill with measles, they could also be a risk to people who are not able to protect themselves, such as babies who are too young to be vaccinated.”

Uptake of the MMR vaccine fell from 92% in early 1995 to 79.9% in 2002-3 largely because of speculation that it might be linked to autism and Crohn’s disease. MMR uptake is now rising again, with the latest figures showing an uptake of 91.2% in England in 2011-12. Figures broken down by primary care trust show that the north east as a whole had fairly good take-up of MMR, at 91.5%, although Hartlepool PCT had only 85.6% coverage. But this was much higher than in London, where the average coverage was only 80.7%. The World Health Organization recommends immunity levels of around 95% to prevent outbreaks of disease.

The Health Protection Agency has asked GPs, out of hours services, and hospitals to notify it if they come across any cases of measles. They are also telling parents who are not sure about their child’s vaccination status to ask their GP.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f662