Measles cases on the rise: Symptoms, signs and when you should keep your child off school or nursery

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There have been over 1500 cases reported since October

Measles cases have been rising across the UK with 1,570 confirmed cases reported since the start of October 2023.

Around 38% (599 of 1,570) of the cases came from the West Midlands, 31% (484 of 1,570) from London, and 10% (151 of 1,570) from the East Midlands.

Most measles cases (993 of 1,570, 63%) were among ages 10 and under and 30% (473 of 1,570) were among young people and adults aged 15 and over.

In the past month, 218 measles cases were confirmed. Almost half of the cases were reported in London (94 of 218 cases) and all regions also had confirmed cases during this period.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) explained: “the rapid increase in cases seen in late 2023 was initially driven by a large outbreak in Birmingham but activity there has now stabilised and in more recent weeks we have seen a rise in cases in London and smaller clusters ongoing in other regions.”

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly infectious virus disease that is airborne (transmitted through the air).

It can be severe, especially in immunosuppressed individuals and young infants, as well as during pregnancy, and increases the risks of miscarriage, stillbirth or preterm delivery.

What are the symptoms of Measles?

Measles typically starts with cold-like symptoms including:

- a high temperature

- a runny or blocked nose

- sneezing

- a cough

- red, sore, watery eyes

Some people also have small white spots appear inside the cheeks and on the back of the lips a few days later. The spots usually last for a few days.

A few days after the cold-like symptoms, a rash usually appears on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body.

The rash is generally not itchy and looks brown or red on white skin and may be harder to see on brown and black skin.

The skin rash caused by measles.The skin rash caused by measles.
The skin rash caused by measles.

How to treat Measles?

There is no specific medical treatment for measles.

The best way to prevent catching the virus is through getting the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. If your child received the two doses of the vaccine, they are unlikely to have the virus.

The NHS website recommends to ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

- you think you or your child may have measles.

- your child is under 1 year old and has come into contact with someone who has measles.

- you've been in close contact with someone who has measles and you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system.

- you or your child have a high temperature that has not come down after taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.

- you or your child have difficulty breathing – you may feel more short of breath than usual.

- your baby or young child is not feeding well, or taking less feeds or fluids than usual.

- you or your child are peeing less than usual (or your baby has fewer wet nappies).

- you or your child feel very unwell, or you're worried something is seriously wrong.

How to avoid spreading or catching Measles?

The best protection against measles for children and adults is to get both doses of the MMR vaccine.

You should also:

- wash your hands often with soap and warm water.

- use a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

- throw used tissues in the bin.

- not share cutlery, cups, towels, clothes, or bedding.

To help ease the symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection, the NHS recommends to:

- rest and drink plenty fluids, such as water, to avoid dehydration.

- take paracetamol or ibuprofen for a high temperature.

- give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen if they're distressed or uncomfortable – check the packaging or leaflet to make sure the medicine is suitable for your child, or speak to a pharmacist or GP if you're not sure.

- use cotton wool soaked in warm water to gently remove any crusts from your or your child's eyes.

The MMR vaccines continues to be the best protection against measles. If your child received the two doses of the vaccine, they are unlikely to have the virus.The MMR vaccines continues to be the best protection against measles. If your child received the two doses of the vaccine, they are unlikely to have the virus.
The MMR vaccines continues to be the best protection against measles. If your child received the two doses of the vaccine, they are unlikely to have the virus.

When should you keep your child off school or nursery?

You should keep your child off school or nursery for at least four days from when the rash first appears.

They should also avoid close contact with babies and anyone who is pregnant or has a weakened immune system.

When should you call 999 or go to A&E with Measles?

The NHS website recommends to call 999 or go to A&E if you or your child has measles and:

- have a seizure (fit).

- severe difficulty breathing – you're gasping, choking or not able to get words out (babies may make grunting noises or their stomach may suck under their ribcage).

- are unable to stay awake – cannot keep their eyes open for more than a few seconds.

- suddenly become confused – your child may be very unsettled, behaving differently, or crying non-stop.

- your child is limp, floppy or not responding normally – their head may fall to the side, backwards or forwards, or they may find it difficult to lift their head and focus on your face.

- a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it.

- a stiff neck, or find light uncomfortable or painful.

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