DThe UK Health Security Agency is concerned about the rising number of measles cases. In central England, the highest number of infections have been detected around Birmingham in recent months. The health authority said there have been more than 200 confirmed cases and 100 suspected cases in the West Midlands since October. 80 per cent of the cases occurred in Birmingham, most of them in children under ten years of age.
“Colleagues in the West Midlands have worked tirelessly to bring the outbreak under control,” said Jenny Harris, head of the authority. “But because vaccination rates are so low in some communities, there is now a real risk that the virus will spread to other communities and cities.” Measles can be prevented with two doses of the vaccine.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. For example, the virus is spread by coughing, sneezing or talking. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and a red-brown rash. The virus can cause serious complications such as brain swelling and, even years later, a very rare but dangerous long-term effect – subacute sclerosing encephalitis (SSPE).
SSPE is extremely rare in the United States and Western Europe due to widespread measles vaccination. Unfortunately, however, infections occur repeatedly in children who have not yet been vaccinated – for example, if an unvaccinated person with measles was in a procedure at the same time or hours earlier. People exposed to measles under the age of two are at a higher risk of developing SSPE.
Death cannot be stopped
So far the disease has not been stopped. Initial symptoms such as forgetfulness and irritability are followed by symptoms such as hallucinations and seizures. Mental retardation, speech problems, muscle stiffness and swallowing problems follow. Death usually occurs one to three years after onset. Experts have long criticized it as a harmless childhood disease.
In Germany, vaccination against measles has been mandatory since March 2020, for daycare centers and schools, and for certain professional groups such as staff in hospitals. The British Health Commission is calling on parents to vaccinate their children. On average, only 85 percent of school-going children are vaccinated twice, Harris said, according to the BBC. 95 percent is recommended to avoid major outbreaks.