Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that, in a small number of cases, can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, meningitis or brain inflammation.
Although anyone can get measles, it is most common in young children. There is an effective vaccine available which has helped to reduce incidences of measles. It is so effective that the disease was virtually eliminated from developed countries twenty years ago. In contrast, in low income countries, where vaccinations are not always provided routinely, measles is still common. This demonstrates just how important the measles jab is.
The signs and symptoms of measles
Measles may start like a cold or flu, with symptoms including a runny nose, aches and pains, appetite loss and a high temperature. The eyes may also appear sore and red. Within a few days, a brown-red rash will usually appear.
The symptoms of measles typically occur up to 10 days after coming into contact with the virus, and the individual will remain contagious for at least four days following the appearance of the rash. The lag time between contacting the virus and the rash appearing makes it easier for the disease to spread in nurseries and schools.
Take-up of the measles jab is low
The measles vaccination consists of two doses. The first is generally administered to children around the time of their first birthday, followed by another when they reach 3 years and 4 months. The vaccine can be given in isolation or combined with vaccines for other childhood diseases. In the UK, children are usually given the vaccination as part of the MMR jab (measles, mumps and rubella).
Although take-up of the vaccine within low-income countries is poor, one of the main challenges is getting children to receive both doses. According to UNICEF, of the 20 countries with the greatest proportion of unvaccinated children, nine have not introduced the second dose.
But this is not just a problem for developing countries. Despite the evidence for how important the measles jab is, the UK has one of the lowest uptake of this vaccination in the developed world, after the U.S. and France. Even when the first dose is administered, the second dose is not always given, meaning the individual is not fully protected.
A worldwide rise in measles cases
This is contributing to a surge in measles cases around the world. The BBC reports that the number of cases in the first three months of 2019 has increased four-fold compared to the same period last year. Although the trend is most severe is low income countries, and Africa has seen the greatest increase, the trend can be seen even in Europe and the U.S. New York has declared a public health emergency following a severe measles outbreak in the city this year.
Access to the vaccine is one of the main reasons for the resurgence of measles, but in the case of high-income countries the cause runs deeper. Parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children because they are falling prey to messages that the vaccination is unnecessary or even harmful to children. The consequence being that there are increasing numbers of school aged children who are susceptible to contracting measles, putting themselves and others at risk.
How important is the measles jab?
We cannot emphasise how important the measles jab is. If you have questions about the vaccination or how to ensure your whole family is protected, please talk to a health professional to receive accurate advice. If you spot signs or symptoms of measles, call NHS111.