East Anglia: Sharp Rise in Measles Cases

The number of measles cases in Suffolk has seen a big jump in the first quarter of 2013.

The number of measles cases in Suffolk has seen a big jump in the first quarter of 2013.

From January to April there were 13 confirmed cases, compared to zero in the same period in 2012. It's also more than triple the total number in 2012, when there were four.

In Norfolk there were three cases up to April, compared to two in the same time last year. In 2012 there was a total of seven.

The figures have been released in the first monthly confirmed case data for Anglia and Essex Public Health England Centre area as part of the national MMR catch–up programme. The figures show a further 10 cases of the preventable, infectious disease, on top of 26 cases from January to March this year.

In England there were 288 cases in April, bringing the total number so far in 2013 to 962. This continues the trend seen since early 2012 with monthly totals around the highest recorded levels seen since 1994.  The regions most affected continue to be the North West and North East where there have been outbreaks of the infection.

In line with trends across the country, the number of cases of measles has continued to rise in Anglia and Essex. Up to the end of April, 36 cases were confirmed, compared to a total of 37 cases in 2012. (See notes in editors for breakdown by local authority).

The national catch-up programme to increase MMR vaccination uptake in children and teenagers has so far resulted in more than 95 per cent of GP practices across England ordering extra doses of the vaccine – over 200,000 extra in total.

The catch-up programme, run by Public Health England, NHS England, the Department of Health, and local authorities, aims to prevent measles outbreaks by giving MMR to as many unvaccinated and partially vaccinated 10-16 year olds as possible in time for the next school year.

This age group are most at risk of measles due to the fall in coverage of MMR that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s when concern around the discredited link between autism and the vaccine was widespread.

During this period, vaccination uptake fell to as low as 80 per cent in 2005, with lower rates in some parts of the country. Today MMR coverage among five year olds in England is at its highest recorded levels, with 94 per cent receiving one dose and 90 per cent receiving two doses.

Dr Gina Radford, Centre Director, Public Health England Anglia & Essex, said: “Our ambition is to vaccinate 95 per cent of 10-16 year olds in time for the next school year. Local public health teams have been working hard to encourage uptake in children and teenagers across Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. The message to parents who think their child may not be fully immunised is to check today and book an appointment with your GP. The vaccine is there ready to be used and could save your child’s life. Measles is a serious illness which can lead to serious complications.

“We are getting regular feedback from the local NHS teams about what is happening on the ground and are encouraged by the very high levels of involvement by GP practices across the area. We will shortly be getting results from a new monitoring system that will tell us the number of vaccines given to children.

“We are continuing to work closely with NHS partners to ensure we have accurate records of children who have missed vaccination, to help guide effective local decision making about possible additional targeted activity.”

In addition to the more imminent risk of measles, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated young people will remain susceptible to infection with mumps and rubella. During the first quarter of 2013 (January – March), in England there were 948 cases of mumps. So far, we have seen very few cases of rubella (four) but if it were to come back, then it is a particularly serious risk to young women and their unborn babies.