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HAVE WE FORGOTTEN THAT MEASLES CAN BE A KILLER?

August 31, 2018

Until the late 20th century measles was considered an almost inevitable disease of childhood – although adults are also susceptible.

In most cases the disease is an unpleasant but acute illness from which patients make a full recovery. However, it can cause serious long-term health problems and has a mortality rate of just over 0.1% – in populations with high levels of malnutrition and poor healthcare it can be far higher.

A vaccine made available in the UK in 1970 offered the possibility of eradicating measles if herd immunity could be achieved – this requires 95% of the population to be vaccinated.

However, uptake was disappointingly low until the introduction of the MMR vaccine in the late 1980s; this offered protection against measles, mumps and rubella in just two injections. Coverage levels of over 90% were achieved and incidence of measles fell dramatically, saving thousands of lives and sparing even more from lifetimes of disability.

It is therefore distressing to see that by mid-August there had been 828 confirmed cases in England alone this year; in 2017 the total for England and Wales was 277.