Measles “remains a threat” to the British public, despite global health leaders declaring that the infectious disease has been eliminated in the UK, according to an article in a medical journal.
An editorial published in the British Journal of General Practice states that recent outbreaks of the disease have highlighted that it is an “ongoing threat”.
According to data from Public Health England, there has been a steep rise in the number of cases across England.
There were 274 cases in the whole of 2017. Comparatively, between January 1 and June 18 this year there were 643 cases.
In September last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the elimination of measles had been achieved in the UK.
Elimination of measles can be verified once a country has sustained “interruption of endemic transmission” for at least 36 months, according to the WHO.
The UK has also reached the WHO target for 95% of five-year-olds to receive the first dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The new article, penned by Dr Maliha Moten, who is part of PHE’s West Midlands Health Protection Team, states: “Despite this progress, measles remains a threat to the UK population.”
It describes the clinical features of measles and the key actions for GPs dealing with a suspected case.
It states there have been several outbreaks across Europe in countries where MMR uptake has been low historically, including Romania, France, Greece, and Italy, with 48 measles deaths reported in the European Union since 2016.
The latest British cases are “mainly linked to importations from Europe”, they wrote.
As a result, PHE has declared a national measles incident, they added.
“Recent outbreaks of measles have highlighted its ongoing threat,” the article states.
In June, PHE urged young adults and teenagers planning to go to Europe during the summer to check they are vaccinated against measles.
It called on would-be travellers to check they have had their MMR jabs.
Uptake of the MMR vaccine fell heavily in the late 1990s following the publication of research by Andrew Wakefield which suggested a possible link between the inoculation and autism.
Experts have widely discredited his study and he was struck off the medical register in 2010.
PHE said that while vaccine uptake levels in the UK in young children are currently very high, coverage levels dipped to a low of 80% in 2003.
It said this means there are significant numbers of unprotected teenagers and young adults who could contract measles.
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness and can be deadly in some cases.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “In the early 2000s there was a fall in MMR vaccination coverage in children and as a consequence, we are now seeing measles cases in young adults.”
“Measles can be more serious in adults with a higher likelihood of hospitalisation and complications arising.”
“Measles is circulating in England and the rest of Europe. We often think about what travel-related vaccines we might need before going on holiday, but it’s also important to check that we are up to date with routine vaccinations like MMR.”
“If you are unsure if you have had two doses of MMR call your GP practice to check and catch up if needed.”
Gib ‘measles free’
Gibraltar is free of measles despite a UK and European outbreak of the disease.
The Gibraltar Government confirmed there had been no cases of measles in 2016, 2017 and so far in 2018.