Suffolk 'facing measles epidemic'

SUFFOLK is “teetering” on the edge of a major measles epidemic because not enough parents are protecting their children with the MMR vaccine, it was warned last night.

By Danielle Nuttall

SUFFOLK is “teetering” on the edge of a major measles epidemic because not enough parents are protecting their children with the MMR vaccine, it was warned last night.

A leading expert in communicable disease said the county is at risk of a serious outbreak of the potentially fatal childhood disease unless more efforts were undertaken to ensure children are vaccinated.

Confirmed cases of measles nationally have shown a steep rise, with 181 cases already recorded this year - including one death - compared to 78 during the whole of 2005.

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The controversial measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab offers immunisation from the disease but only 85% of children under five in the county have had the vaccination instead of the recommended 95% uptake.

Health experts have recently seen a confirmed case of measles in the county - and a suspected case in an unvaccinated toddler - following a lull since the beginning of the year.

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Torbjorn Sundkvist, consultant in communicable disease control at the Suffolk Health Protection Team, warned in a report: “There have been a number of outbreaks in various communities around the country, with a child death in the north.

“It appears that we are now teetering on the edge of the epidemic that has been predicted for the last few years so it is imperative that we ensure all susceptible people are vaccinated against this highly infectious disease.”

Mr Sundkvist said last night the sporadic outbreaks occurring in Suffolk were directly due to too many children not being vaccinated.

“The uptake of MMR is still too low - this is the problem,” he said. “You need take up to be about 95% and we are in the 85% region. Clearly that is too many. It could be 15-20% of children below five years unprotected against measles and that's a problem.

“How much it spreads depends on how many people around that case are immune. If you have nine or 10 vaccinated around there is less chance of the virus transmitting but if you have two or three without vaccination, it will spread.”

Mr Sundkvist added: “We are worried about it. We have a good vaccination around, why should we not use that? It's very safe. All the claims have been refuted.

“We had a death in the north of England from a disease that is preventable. It's unacceptable to have that. We have not had a death from measles for many years but this year we have more cases because we have too many kids not vaccinated.”

The imminence of an epidemic has led the health team to circulate a letter to all GPs asking them to contact them if measles is suspected.

It will then discuss whether an urgent test should be carried out to determine whether it is measles.

“It's the most nasty of all the childhood diseases. It has complications and risk of hospitalisation and secondary pneumonia,” added Mr Sundkvist.

“All parents have in their hand a means to have a good protection against measles which is safe.”

nMeasles is one of the most contagious viral diseases, caused by the paramyxo virus, and results in a rash.

nThe infection is transferred through droplets. Even if a sick person is isolated, the disease can spread from room to room.

nAnyone who has not had measles can be infected. But once a person has had measles, they can never catch it again as the disease gives lifelong immunity.

nThe period between infection and outbreak of the condition is usually one to two weeks.

nSymptoms of the disease include a fever at about 39C, a cold, coughing, sore throat, reddish eyes, sensitivity to the light, a rash usually beginning around the ears and spreading to the body within a day or two, spots are a clear red colour.

nTreatment involves staying in bed in a cool room without bright lights. Medicines should only be given after consulting a GP.

nA doctor must make sure there are no further complications such as pneumonia or inflammation of the middle ear.

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