The number of people who contracted measles in 2018 in Europe reached the highest number for a decade, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
While more children in Europe are being vaccinated against measles than ever before, progress has been “uneven” between countries – and individual countries have some patches where vaccine take-up is low, it said.
A total of 82,596 people in 47 of 53 countries contracted measles, the highest number in a decade and three times the figure in 2017. A total of 72 children and adults died in 2018 following infection, the WHO said.
In England and Wales, Public Health England (PHE) data shows there were 913 cases of measles between January and October 2018.
So, what do you need to know about the illness?
What Is Measles?
“Measles is a highly infectious disease and can lead to serious complications, so it pays to take any steps possible to guard against you or a loved one catching it,” Dr Nitin Shori, GP and medical director of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service previously told HuffPost UK.
“Like flu, the measles virus is spread in the tiny droplets of mucus, which become airborne when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”
PHE has linked the recent surge in cases in the UK to ongoing large outbreaks of the measles infection in Europe.
“People who have recently travelled, or are planning to travel to Romania, Italy and Germany and have not had two doses of the MMR vaccine are particularly at risk,” Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, commented.
What Are The Symptoms Of Measles?
Initial symptoms of measles include:
:: A runny or blocked nose
:: Watery eyes
:: Swollen eyelids
:: Sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
:: A high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
:: Small greyish-white spots in the mouth (see below)
:: Aches and pains
:: A cough
:: Loss of appetite
:: Tiredness, irritability and a general lack of energy.
The measles rash is perhaps the most well-known symptom. This tends to appear two to four days after the initial symptoms and lasts for about a week.
According to the NHS, the rash:
is made up of small red-brown, flat or slightly raised spots that may join together into larger blotchy patches
usually first appears on the head or neck before spreading outwards to the rest of the body
is slightly itchy for some people
can look similar to other childhood conditions, such as slapped cheek syndrome, roseola or rubella
is unlikely to be caused by measles if the person has been fully vaccinated (had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine) or had measles before.
How Is Measles Treated?
Measles usually lasts between seven to 10 days and most symptoms can be eased at home. The NHS recommends taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce a high temperature and relieve aches and pains, while staying well hydrated.
However, complications can develop in some cases of measles and if you feel your health is getting worse, seek medical help.
Dr Morrison said complications can include:
:: Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) - this can be prevented by taking prophylactic antibiotics - but can end up with sufferers being hospitalised and can be fatal.
:: Ear infections - these occur in about one of every 10 children with measles and can result in permanent hearing loss.
:: Diarrhoea - reported in less than one in 10 people.
:: Encephalitis (brain swelling) - this is a severe complication (but luckily less common) that can be fatal.
Dr Morrison added: “Rather than trying to avoid the complications once you’ve got measles, it’s best to vaccinate against it.”
How Can You Protect Yourself From Measles?
The vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is offered to children when they are one years old and parents are then invited to take children for a second injection, sometimes known as the “pre-school booster” at three years and four months of age. But adults can also have the vaccine too.
The current MMR vaccine is free for both adults and children on the NHS and protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) in a single injection, but requires two doses to be effective.
If you’re unsure whether you’ve had the full course of MMR, PHE recommends checking with your GP, where it should be on your records. If there’s any doubt, you should go ahead and have the injections anyway, according to the NHS.