The UK government has urged parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children amid a surge in measles cases.


Source: CDC and NIAID

Colorized transmission electron micrograph of a measles virus particle (red).

Since the last update a week ago, a further 118 laboratory confirmed measles cases have been confirmed in England, bringing the total number of cases confirmed since 1 October 2023 to 465. A ‘national incident’ was declared last month by health chiefs after more than 300 cases of measles were confirmed. 

The latest number of laboratory confirmed measles cases in England were published in an updated epidemiological overview published by UKHSA.

A disproportionately high rate is being seen in the West Midlands, with a sharp rise in case numbers over the last six weeks, mainly driven by cases in Birmingham.

MMR vaccine uptake has fallen over the last decade with 1 out of 10 children starting school in England not protected.

Regional breakdown

In England, 17 cases were reported in October, 42 in November, 161 in December, 240 in January 2024 and 5 in February. 71% (329/465) of these cases have been in the West Midlands, 13% (62/465) in London and 7% (32/465) in Yorkshire and The Humber. The remaining cases were reported in other regions of England.

The majority (306/465, 66%) of these cases are in children under the age of 10 and 25% (115/465) in young people and adults over the age of 15.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA Consultant Epidemiologist, said: “The measles outbreak in the West Midlands continues to be a concern. MMR vaccine uptake has been falling over the last decade with 1 out of 10 children starting school in England not protected. Measles is highly infectious and there is a real risk it will spread to other areas.

Completely preventable

“Parents should be aware that measles is a nasty illness for most children and sadly for some can be very serious and life changing, but it is completely preventable.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your children. I strongly urge parents to take up the offer as soon as possible and protect their child now.”

The data published in the epidemiological overview covers the period between 1 October 2023 and 6 February 2024 and is currently provisional, with the number of cases for the most recent months likely to increase as more suspected cases undergo confirmatory testing. 

Measles death

A man in his 40s died from measles in Ireland in the first case reported there this year. The HSE said public health teams are taking all necessary steps following the death at a hospital in the Dublin and Midlands health region.

The man, who comes from the Westmeath area, is believed to have travelled to the Birmingham region of the UK recently.

He was diagnosed after he presented to a hospital in the Midlands when he returned to Ireland.

A HSE Measles National Incident Management Team had already been established in response to a recent rise in measles cases in Europe - particularly Romania, France and Austria - and in the UK.

The Chief Medical Officer says she’s very concerned the country is at high risk of a measles outbreak. Professor Breda Smyth says vaccination rates have fallen below 90 per cent and 80 per cent in some areas and a vaccination rate of 95% is needed to be effective.

Vaccination rates are mixed across the country with south and west of Dublin at 94%, while in Louth and Meath the rate stands at 80%.