Scots measles cases rise 170% amid vaccine calls

A schoolgirl gets ready to receive a measles jab. Picture: PA
A schoolgirl gets ready to receive a measles jab. Picture: PA
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The number of people struck down by measles in Scotland continues to rise, with cases up almost 170 per cent compared with last year, figures show.

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) revealed 83 cases had been reported to officials so far this year, against 31 in the same period last year. In 2011, there were 44 cases in the same period.

The figures came as health boards prepared to start giving the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab to unvaccinated children.

Statistics also showed whooping cough cases are still high in Scotland, with 665 cases this year so far, against 360 last year.

A campaign to vaccinate pregnant women against whooping cough, to protect their babies, has already been extended.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer has now written to NHS boards outlining the details of the MMR immunisation catch-up campaign. Uptake of the jab fell after now discredited research linked it to autism.

The campaign for ten- to 17-year-olds was announced in April for those who have not been fully vaccinated following the increased cases of measles in England and Wales, particularly the outbreak in the Swansea area which has affected more than 1,000 patients.

Health boards have now been asked to begin the catch-up campaign over the next few weeks.

In his letter, Sir Harry Burns also said, depending on uptake, NHS boards may be asked to repeat the catch-up campaign for later in 2013.

He added: “In line with existing guidance, NHS boards should employ effective measles control strategies in the event of any cases or small outbreaks that emerge.”

Martin Donaghy, medical director at HPS, said: “The number of measles cases will fluctuate year on year, but certainly we have seen a rise without a doubt.”

Dr Donaghy said the rise in cases in Scotland came as a result of increased prevalence of measles in England and Wales, though so far the numbers were not on as large a scale.

“The levels of immunity in the population up here are higher than down south because the MMR uptake rates did not fall as low as in England and Wales,” he said. “With the increase in Wales and England, there will be a spill-over into Scotland in the number of cases, but you won’t get the onward transmission because of the higher levels of immunity.”

Currently in Scotland, uptake rates of the first dose of MMR in five-year-olds are high, reaching 96.9 per cent at the end of last year – above the target of 95 per cent recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Uptake of the second dose in Scotland is also high at 91.8 per cent among those aged five.

Dr Donaghy said officials had predicted a potential increase in measles cases at the end of 2011, so boards had already been vaccinating young people.

He urged parents to take up the offer to have their children vaccinated if they had not done so already.