Major outbreak of highly-contagious and deadly Victorian disease is on the cards, expert warns | The Sun

A DEADLY measles outbreak among British children could be imminent, experts fear.

It comes as vaccination uptake is at a 12-year low, official figures reveal, and cases of bug surge globally.

There has already been 67 cases between January and April this year — which is more than the 54 seen in the whole of 2022.

The national shortage of healthcare workers, specifically health visitors, has been cited as a reason behind the low uptake.

"There is no question, we're going to see a surge of cases if things continue this way," Prof Helen Bedford, an expert in child public health at University College London, told The Sun.

"So far, we've only seen limited outbreaks across the country, but we're likely to see more," she added.

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Vaccine uptake varies hugely in England, dropping significantly in some areas of London, according to UK Health Security (UKHSA) data.

In Hackney, east London, just 55.2 per cent of five-year-olds had both dosses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) jab.

"This is shockingly bad," Prof Helen said, "and is begging for a big [measles] outbreak".

Alastair Sutcliffe, a professor of general paediatrics at University College London, also said an outbreak of the bug could be looming.

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"An outbreak amongst the unvaccinated including deaths is possible," he told The Sun, "if rapid catch up vaccination is not brought in."

Uptake in Britian has fallen in recent years and only 85 per cent of five-year-olds are fully vaccinated – below the 95 per cent needed for herd immunity.

This is the first time uptake has fallen below 90 per cent since 2010, NHS Digital data suggests.

Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, said: "Measles one of the most, if not the most contagious virus that infects humans, so it can spread like wild fire in groups where there is low levels of immunity."


The UKHSA says that uptake of non-Covid vaccines fell during the pandemic.

But Prof Helen said the low uptake could also be down to the national shortage of healthcare workers.

"We currently have a shortage of GPs, nurses and health visitors, which means parents are getting less support when it comes to looking after new babies.

"The fall in health visitors in particularly concerning," she added.

"Often, health visitors are the only people to discuss vaccinations with parents."

Data from NHS Digital reveals there were 5,870 health visitors in July 2022, a drop of 43 per cent from its peak of 10,309 in October 2015.

"All these things conspire to knock immunisation rates down," she added.


A global rise in measles cases adds to fears of a large UK outbreak.

A record high of nearly 40 million children globally missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021 due to hurdles created by the Covid pandemic, the WHO and the CDC said in a joint report.

Already, cases of the bug detected in England are believed to have been caught abroad.

"A lot of disease outbreaks are triggered by importation, like the diptheria outbreak," Prof Helen added.

In November, experts  warned cases of diphtheria were likely to start cropping up across the UK because of small boat crossing.

Scientists said outbreaks seen across the UK over the past year have been "mostly linked to incoming migrants" from Afghanistan, where people weren't vaccinated.


Prof Bedford added that measles cases “don’t need to” continue rising if unvaccinated children get booked in to have their jab.

All children are offered the first dose of the super-effective MMR vaccine at age one and then the second at age three –  but people can catch up on missed jabs at any age.

UKHSA has warned measles is now “ramping up globally” and a growing number of young Brits are unprotected.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “It’s never too late to catch up, and you can get the MMR vaccine for free on the NHS whatever your age.

“Measles spreads very easily and can lead to complications that require a stay in hospital.

Measles is one of the world's most infectious viruses and can cause pneumonia or even death in the most serious cases.

It can spread by coughs, sneezes and physical contact with an infected person.

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Symptoms include a classic blotchy reddish brown rash, as well as a fever and sore, red eyes.

Most people start to get better with bed rest after around a week but people should call their GP or NHS 111 if they think there is a case in their home.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Approximately 10 days after the illness is contracted, signs become noticeable.

The NHS outlines the initial symptoms of measles…

  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
  • small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks

A few days after these flu-like symptoms manifest, a rash often begins to appear.

Distinctive red-brown blotches spring up on the body, typically beginning at the upper neck and spreading downwards.

Severe complications can occur, including miscarriage in pregnant women, brain swelling and the risk of death from pneumonia.

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