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Measles vaccination warning amid spate of European outbreaks

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Health leaders are warning people in England to get up to date with their measles vaccine, following a “dramatic” rise in outbreaks across Europe.

More than 41,000 people from the continent have been infected in the first six months of 2018, leading to 37 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is far higher than any annual total recorded so far this decade.

“This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children”

Mary Ramsay

Latest Public Health England (PHE) figures show there have 828 laboratory confirmed measles cases in England this year.

The orgnisation is advising the public to ensure they have had the necessary two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Infections in England have largely been in unvaccinated young people who have travelled to other countries in Europe battling measles outbreaks, PHE said.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “The measles outbreaks we are currently seeing in England are linked to ongoing large outbreaks in Europe. The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were children.

“Anyone who missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past or are unsure if they had two doses should contact their GP practice to catch-up,” she said.

“This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children at one year of age and as a pre-school booster at three years and four months of age,” Dr Ramsay said.

She added: “We’d also encourage people to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccine before travelling to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks.”

Public Health England

Dr Mary Ramsay

Mary Ramsay

European countries that have been the hardest hit with more than 1,000 infections each this year and measles-related deaths are France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine.

The highest annual total for measles cases between 2010 and 2017 had been 23,927 in 2017, and the lowest had been 5,273 in 2016.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks.”

Dr Jakab added: “We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease.”

To prevent outbreaks, at least 95% immunisation coverage with two doses of measles vaccine is needed every year in every community, according to WHO.  

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