London hospital 'really worried' about rising measles cases at A&E as parents urged to vaccinate children

There has been a surge of cases in the UK, particularly in London (stock image)
There has been a surge of cases in the UK, particularly in London (stock image)

A London hospital is “really worried” about rising measles cases as it urged parents to vaccinate their children against the highly contagious infection.

The capital has seen a dramatic surge in measles cases in recent months, and has accounted for almost one-third (29 per cent) of all cases in England since a national outbreak began in October.

The disease is particularly prevalent among children. Since October, zero to 14-year-olds in London have accounted for one in five of all England’s cases since across all age groups.

Dr Elizabeth Whittaker, who works as a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, told the BBC the hospital was “really worried” about a surge in young measles patients presenting at its A&E department.

"Measles has a high rate of complications in children and those complications have a high rate of mortality," she told the BBC.

"In the last outbreak, we had a couple of fatalities and the worry is the more cases we have the more likely it is that we will have a tragedy on our hands."

Her comments came as new UKHSA figures on Thursday showed London remains firmly established as the UK’s measles hotspot, accounting for 38 per cent (74) of the 195 newly confirmed cases England has recorded in the last four weeks.

Behind it was the West Midlands, accounting for 19 per cent (37) of cases.

Measles cases in England and London (ES)
Measles cases in England and London (ES)

Measles is a viral illness of the respiratory system that, if left untreated, can have serious health complications, including infection of the lungs and brain.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes it as “a highly contagious, serious airborne disease caused by a virus that can lead to severe complications and death”.

The disease can spread through contact with infected mucus and saliva.

Measles will usually pass in around seven to 10 days, but in some cases can lead to potentially life-threatening complications including meningitis, hepatitis, and pneumonia.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is only available to children aged one and above, and two doses are recommended to ensure immunity.

In 2022, around 83 per cent of the world’s children received a dose of the measles vaccine by their first birthday - the lowest since 2008.

The same year saw an estimated 136,000 measles deaths globally, says the WHO, mainly among children under five who were unvaccinated or had not received both doses of the vaccine.

Dr Rob Verrecchia, UKHSA Health Protection Consultant, said: “We are continuing to see measles cases right across the country, with cases particularly high in London and the West Midlands.

“Measles is an extremely infectious disease, and it only takes one case to get into a community with low vaccination rates for measles to spread rapidly, especially in schools and nurseries, so it is vital that people are fully protected by two doses of the MMR vaccine.”

He added that measles is “completely preventable” with vaccination, but said “many thousands” of children around the country are not fully vaccinated, putting them at risk of serious illness or life-long complications.

“That is why our campaign is reminding parents of the importance of ensuring their children are vaccinated,” he added.

“Parents should check their child’s Red Book now to ensure that children are up to date with their MMR and other routine vaccines. If you’re unsure, contact your GP practice. They will bring your child up to date if necessary. If the NHS is in touch about catching up on missed vaccines, please respond as soon as possible.”

The UK has seen a rapid increase in cases since late last year, which was initially driven by a large outbreak in Birmingham.

Activity there has however now stabilised, while cases have risen in London.

What are the symptoms of measles?

The NHS says the initial symptoms of measles typically develop about 10 days after the person is infected.

Symptoms include:

  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and a cough

  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light

  • a high temperature, which may reach around 40°C

  • small, greyish-white spots on the inside of cheeks

A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear, usually starting on the head or the upper neck before spreading to the rest of the body.