Health boss warns of measles outbreak

FEARS have been raised by a leading health official that Suffolk could face a measles outbreak because parents are failing to get their children immunised.

FEARS have been raised by a leading health official that Suffolk could face a measles outbreak because parents are failing to get their children immunised.

Dr Torbjorn Sundkvist said it was “disturbing” that approximately 4,500 youngsters in the county aged between six and 10 (14% of those in that age range) have not been vaccinated against the potentially life threatening disease.

This unprotected group are now attending school leading experts to predict that there could be outbreaks of measles in the classroom - something which has not happened for many years, he warned.

In 2007 there was only an 85% take-up rate of the two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination in the county.

Health experts say the figure needs to be between 90-95% if the disease is to be eradicated.

In 2006/07 there were 31 confirmed cases of measles in the county, including a significant outbreak in a traveller community.

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Dr Sundkvist, consultant in communicable disease control at the Suffolk Health Protection Unit, said: “To think that so many children are still unprotected against the disease is especially disturbing.

“Because the age group that hasn't had the MMR vaccine is getting older and moving to school age they are becoming increasingly at risk.

“They are now reaching the moment when they will be in full time education and there is a real danger that we could see an outbreak at a school because they will be working close together.

“In the past, before the MMR vaccine was around, there were some outbreaks in nurseries - but in schools they are new.

“Children were exposed to the virus before they reached school age so they were not at risk however now this isn't the case and it could be extremely dangerous.”

Dr Sundkvist was speaking following the publication of MMR Immunization in Suffolk, by Dr Fiona Head, specialist registrar in public health for Suffolk.

She states that 4,500 children in the county aged from six to 10 years remain unprotected against measles.

This is despite Dr Andrew Wakefield's research - which linked the MMR jab to autism - being discredited.

Dr Sundkvist said: “This study shows that 14% of children in this age range in Suffolk are unvaccinated and have no immunity.

“It is really quite a lot. The previous research has been discredited and I would urge all parents to get their child immunised against this highly infectious disease.

“The vaccine is safe for everybody and the findings in Dr Wakefield's report were unfounded. I really hope that people understand that and visit their GP as soon as they can.”

His message was echoed by Dr Peter Bradley, director of public health for Suffolk, who added: “My advice is for children to be vaccinated against measles. It is a highly infectious illness, which has the potential to kill children.

“Concerns raised about MMR have been discredited, so a low take-up of vaccinations against the disease now could only end in tragedy.”

Measles factfile:

* Measles is a highly infectious disease with symptoms including fever and distinctive reddish brown spots.

* It is spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes, contact with the skin or through objects with the live virus on them.

* MMR is a triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella first used in the UK in 1988 to replace single vaccines for each of the illnesses. It is given in two doses to provide better protection.