Mapped - measles outbreak spreads as 600 new cases diagnosed

Parents are advised to make sure schools and nurseries are aware of the risks and the need to quickly alert the family if any classmates are diagnosed
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

Families of children with cancer and other conditions that may weaken immunity have been warned to take extra care during the measles emergency - as GPs diagnose more than 600 new suspected cases in three weeks.

Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that since the current outbreak began in Birmingham at the start of October, there have been 1,749 lab-confirmed cases.

That includes 1,531 confirmed cases so far in 2024 - more than quadruple the 362 cases seen all last year and the biggest outbreak in more than a decade. Separate figures show that in the three weeks up to June 3, the UKHSA has received notifications of 627 suspected cases of measles from GPs in England and Wales.

These are alerts that GPs are required to send to the UKHSA every time they diagnose a case of what they believe to be measles.
While these cases have not been confirmed in a laboratory, they show suspected infections in council areas and can provide an early warning of possible outbreaks.

The figures show that Birmingham - where the current outbreak began - has had the most suspected cases overall with 382, including 22 in the last week. Next is Manchester with 141 overall, including nine in the last three weeks, and then Leicester with 132 including 12 most recently.

But Wandsworth in London has had the most suspected cases in the last three weeks with 23, including 10 in the week ending June 2, the latest data available.

You can see the suspected cases near you with our interactive map

The UKHSA has now sent out letters to clinicians around the country offering guidance for protecting patients with weakened immune systems. That could include cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy as well as people with genetic disorders and certain diseases or conditions.

Anyone with a weakened immune system - particularly children, who are more likely to come into contact with someone infected with measles - is more at risk from serious complications of measles, such as viral pneumonitis, an infection of the lungs.

The guidance sent to clinicians responsible for caring for patients with weakened immune systems warns that “there has been an increase in the number of confirmed measles cases and local outbreaks being reported across England” and that “children under 10 years of age have been particularly affected in the current outbreak”.

Parents are advised to make sure schools and nurseries are aware of the risks and the need to quickly alert the family if any classmates are diagnosed with measles. People are also advised to ensure all family members and close contacts are fully vaccinated and to seek guidance if anyone with a weakened immune system is exposed to measles.

The UKHSA blames the spread on low take-up of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine in parts of the country. In England, 92.5% of children had received at least one dose of the MMR vaccine by the age of five in 2022-23, down from 93.4% the previous year and below the national target of 95.5%. Only 84.5% have received both doses. The World Health Organisation said coverage must be 95% or higher to achieve population-level immunity.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKSHA said: “Measles can be a serious infection that can lead to complications especially in young children, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system. Nobody wants to see their child or loved ones sick with measles, or put others who are more vulnerable at risk.

“The best way to protect vulnerable close contacts from measles is the MMR vaccine. Two doses give lifelong protection and it’s never too late to catch up. Anyone not up-to-date should make an appointment as soon as possible with their GP practice.”
The key symptoms of measles include a high fever, coughing, sneezing, red and sore watery eyes, and a rash that usually appears after the initial symptoms.