Parents urged to vaccinate children after London measles outbreak

Parents in London have been urged to vaccinate their children against measles after a rise in cases.

It comes as 74 cases of measles were confirmed in London in the latest monthly period - the highest in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Six-month-old Margot House is among the children in the capital who have recently contracted the disease.

She ended up in hospital needing help breathing and eating.

The NHS says measles is a highly contagious disease and can cause serious complications in some people. In rare cases it can also be fatal.

Dr Elizabeth Whittaker, a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, north London, said the hospital was "really worried" about an increasing number of cases coming to the emergency department.

"Measles has a high rate of complications in children and those complications have a high rate of mortality," she said.

"In the last outbreak, we had a couple of fatalities and the worry is the more cases we have the more likely it is that we will have a tragedy on our hands."

Because Margot is under 12 months old, she was not eligible for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Her mum, Georgia House, said it was a "terrible" experience because Margot was "just so uncomfortable, wriggling around the whole time".

"She didn't sleep, she's never been a great sleeper, but this was a whole new level, not sleeping at all. Just so uncomfortable, and in pain," she said.

Advice on how to avoid catching or spreading measles

  • Measles is spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes - so wash hands often with soap and warm water, use tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in the bin

  • Anyone infected should also stay away from nursery, school or work for at least four days from when a rash first appears

  • If you're pregnant and have been in close contact with someone who has measles, seek medical advice

  • Try to also avoid close contact with babies and anyone who is pregnant or has a weakened immune system

Source: NHS

Since October 2023, more than a quarter (29%) of all the measles cases in England have been found in the capital.

The first dose of the MMR vaccine is offered to all children at one year old and children are given a second dose before they go to school, usually at three years and four months.

South Kensington GP Dr Andrew Steeden said the rise in cases was due to a fall in the vaccine rates below the World Health Organization's (WHO's) 95% target.

"I think it may be an indication of how successful immunisations have been in the past," he explained.

"People have thought a lot of these illnesses have gone and, certainly in London, we've seen the return of a lot of infectious diseases on the back of the decrease in general immunisation rates - so we've all got to be careful, vigilant and take as much protection as we can."

Margot is set to make a full recovery but her parents are urging anyone who may be behind on their vaccinations to get their jabs.

Ms House also asked people to consider the impact of not being vaccinated on more vulnerable people like babies, saying: "If you're not vaccinated, please get vaccinated because those who want to get vaccinated and can't are the ones at highest risk right now."

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