April 03, 2006
Decline in MMR uptake blamed for measles death
By Nicola Woolcock and Nigel Hawkes Health Editor
A FALL in the number of parents allowing their children to have the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has been blamed for a resurgence of measles that has claimed the life of a 13-year-old boy.
More people have been infected in the first three months of this year than the whole of 2005, and at least 30 children have caught measles in a single outbreak in South Yorkshire.
The teenager is Britain?s first fatality in 14 years.
Immunisation rates here, eight years after the first scare over the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, are among the lowest in Western Europe. Fears that the triple jab could lead to autism caused take-up to fall from over 90 per cent in 1998 to less than 80 per cent two years ago. Currently, 81 per cent of children have the combined vaccine before they are two; many European countries achieve the 95 per cent coverage recommended by the World Health Organisation to prevent outbreaks.
The 13-year-old who died last month lived in a travellers? community. It is thought that he had a weakened immune system; he was being treated for a lung condition. The boy died of an infection of the central nervous system caused by a reaction to the measles virus. The Health Protection Agency described his death as shocking.
There have been 100 cases of measles this year, compared with 77 in all of last year. Of the 72 cases of measles confirmed by the middle of last month nine patients were hospitalised.
A number of cases were among the travelling community, which has a low uptake of MMR vaccine. Two jabs are needed to give complete protection and, of the 72 confirmed cases, two children had received only the first injection.
Many parents now opt for single vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella rather than the combined jab. This year three patients caught measles despite having had single-vaccine jabs. Two of these were given in South Africa.
In the Doncaster outbreak, 32 cases have been confirmed and 36 are being investigated.The first infections developed among children at the same playgroup who, at less than a year old, were too young to have had the MMR jab. The disease has now spread to older children and nearby areas.
Dr Wendy Phillips, a consultant in communicable disease control for the Health Protection Agency, said: ?People with measles are very infectious ? particularly from the start of symptoms to about four days after the rash develops. You can be very infectious before you even realise you have measles; once measles gets into a community, it spreads very quickly to anyone who is not protected.?
After the MMR jab was introduced in 1988, immunisation among British children at the age of 2 rose from about 75 per cent to 92 per cent. By 2004 developed countries such as Germany and Spain had an immunisation rate of more than 90 per cent, but Britain?s had fallen to 80 per cent. However, uptake is rising: provisional figures indicate that about 82 per cent of children are now vaccinated with MMR. There are no figures showing how many have had individual vaccines.
Despite popular belief that measles has been eradicated in the developed world, a substantial number of people still catch it. In 2004 France had 4,448 cases and Germany had 121.
Complications include severe coughs and breathing difficulties, ear and eye infections and pneumonia. Rarely, there can be serious complications affecting the brain and nervous system.
The Health Protection Agency said: ?We would urge parents to have their children vaccinated with MMR.?
? More than 1,000 staff at the Central Middlesex Hospital in northwest London were being vaccinated last night after a measles outbreak. Six nurses were in isolation after catching the disease from two children recently admitted to the hospital.
Edited by call me jaded, 03 April 2006 - 06:52 AM.