A HEALTH watchdog is warning of a surge in measles cases after more were reported in the North East during the last 22 days than in the whole of 2011.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is now calling it a “very serious” outbreak, with almost 50 confirmed cases of the illness in recent months.
Health bosses said the rise is down to it being spread among those who do not have the MMR vaccination.
Some 46 confirmed cases have been reported in the North East since the beginning of September, with doctors dealing with a further 50 suspected cases.
This compares with a total of 18 confirmed cases in 2011 and 11 in 2010. Last year there were 40 cases.
Julia Waller, immunisation lead for the HPA in the North East, said: “This measles outbreak is very serious, and we are likely to see many more cases before it’s over.
“The sad thing is that most, if not all, of these cases could have been avoided if people had been up to date with MMR vaccination.
“We know that measles is highly infectious and spreads very easily among those who are unvaccinated and therefore vulnerable.
“There are still too many children and young adults who were not vaccinated.
“Furthermore, if they become ill with measles, they could also be a risk to people who are not able to protect themselves, such as babies who are too young to be vaccinated.
“We have alerted GPs, out-of-hours services and hospitals to ask them to notify us of any cases they come across and we are also urging parents to ensure their children are fully vaccinated.
“As part of the childhood immunisation programme, the first dose of the jab is given at 12 months and a second dose at three years and four months.
“Parents who are not sure about their child’s vaccination status should ask their GP. Indeed, anyone who is unsure about their own status should do the same.”
Measles is potentially a very serious illness, which on rare occasions can be fatal.
It is highly infectious and is spread through direct contact with an infected person or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
There is no treatment, but it can be prevented by the MMR vaccine, of which two doses are required to ensure the best protection.
Julia said: “Measles should not be taken lightly. A quarter of the cases in this outbreak needed hospital treatment.
“You can never tell who will go on to develop the more serious complications of pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
“This is why it’s incredibly important to remember that measles isn’t a harmless childhood disease and why we’re urging people to check they are fully immunised and had both doses of the MMR vaccine.
“If anyone has missed out on MMR in the past it’s always possible to catch up as the vaccine can be given at any age. Just contact your local GP.”
Measles is a viral infection most commonly found in young children who have not been immunised.
However, adults can also catch measles if they have not had it before or have not been immunised against it.
It begins with a fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes.
This is followed with a rash that starts on the face and upper neck a few days later, and then spreads down the upper body, extending to the arms, hands, legs and feet.
In some people it can cause complications, such as diarrhoea, ear infections, chest infections and even pneumonia.
In very rare cases some people who get measles can develop serious complications, which can be fatal.
A person with measles can infect other people from the day before they become unwell until four full days after the rash appears.
Because measles is so infectious, anyone with the illness should telephone NHS Direct or their local GP or walk-in centre for advice and further information.
It’s incredibly important to remember that measles isn’t a harmless childhood disease