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Fears of potential measles outbreak in children as doctors told to be on alert

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has added the condition to its recommendations on the management of children with viral respiratory tract infections in hospital settings

A resurgence of measles has forced children’s doctors to update their national guidance on children’s illnesses for the first time in decades ahead of a potential outbreak this winter.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has added the once rare condition to its recommendations on the management of children with viral respiratory tract infections in hospital settings.

The guidance now outlines the main symptoms of measles in children, which many paediatricians would not have seen previously in their careers and reminds health care professionals to check the immunisation status of all children presenting to hospital.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data published this year showed there has been a sharp rise in cases of measles – a highly infectious disease with potentially serious complications, especially for the very young – throughout the country.

There were 128 laboratory confirmed measles cases in England in the first half of 2023 with two-thirds reported in London, although all regions have reported at least one case.

Some 65 per cent of the cases were in children under the age of 10 and 20 per cent of the cases were in teenagers and young people aged 15 to 34. Less than 1 in 5 (19 per cent) of the cases were imported or import-related, while the rest reflect community transmission in England.

NHS data also show that no vaccines met the 95 per cent coverage target, as set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in England, with Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) coverage now at its lowest rates since 2010-11.

“The UK is now seeing a devastating resurgence of virtually eliminated life threatening diseases, such as measles,” the RCPCH said.

It said falling vaccination rates are a “worrying trend” and is calling for the swift publication of the overdue national vaccination strategy.

The strategy, which the Government consulted healthcare workers and the public on last year, aims to improve vaccination services for local populations by addressing issues around accessibility, misinformation, and distrust of vaccines.

RCPCH president Dr Camilla Kingdon said: “Having to consider measles in our national guidance for the first time in decades is a disappointing but necessary move. Vaccination coverage for children under the age of five is now the lowest it has ever been in the past 10 years. We are already starting to see the effects of this with measles outbreaks occurring in London, Wales and Leicester.

“Many paediatricians I know live in fear of potential measles outbreaks this winter. The winter period is always an extremely tough time for all health care professionals, with high surges in RSV and influenza, as well as circulating Covid-19 and Group A Strep. To add another highly contagious and dangerous disease into the mix would be disastrous and could bring our already fragile system to its knees.

“We now find ourselves once again asking the Government, where is the long-awaited vaccination strategy?”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “It is vital that routine childhood vaccinations are up to date, as this remains one of our best defences for public health. The UK has a world-leading offer and we have run multiple catch-up campaigns to improve coverage – including a national catch-up campaign for MMR and London-specific campaigns for MMR and polio.

“We urge parents and carers to check that their children are up to date on their vaccines and if not, they should book an appointment to catch up.”

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