Measles cases are rising at an ‘alarming’ rate across Europe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
Global health leaders said there has been a 45-fold increase on the continent, with international travel threatening to further the spread.
More than 42,000 cases were reported by member states in 2023, compared with 941 cases in the whole of 2022.
They said cases had ‘accelerated in recent months’ and urged parents to make sure children are fully vaccinated before going abroad.
It comes after the UK declared a ‘national incident’, launching its own campaigns to encourage parents to take millions of children for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data shows there were 1,603 suspected measles cases in England and Wales in 2023. The figure is more than twice as high as the 735 logged in 2022 and an almost five-fold rise compared to the 360 cases reported in 2021
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More than 3.4million children under the age of 16 are unprotected and at risk of becoming ill from the disease, according to NHS England.
Calling on all countries to ramp up vaccination efforts, experts said the rising trend will continue if more people do not get jabs.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: ‘Vaccination is the only way to protect children from this potentially dangerous disease.
‘Urgent vaccination efforts are needed to halt transmission and prevent further spread.
‘It is vital that all countries are prepared to rapidly detect and timely respond to measles outbreaks, which could endanger progress towards measles elimination.’
The WHO blamed a fall in vaccination rates alongside increased travel abroad following the pandemic, for the spike in cases.
Two in five cases were in children aged one to four, while one in five were among people aged 20 and over, it said.
Last week, the UK Health Security Agency warned things were on a ‘trajectory for everything getting much worse’ without concerted action.
Professor Dame Jenny Harries said measles is spreading among unvaccinated communities, and urged parents to check whether their children have had both doses of the jab.
She said: ‘What we are seeing at the moment with measles is that people have forgotten what a serious illness it is…
‘We have had very high vaccination rates, especially for young families, but they are low at the moment.’
In England, 89.3 per cent of two-year-olds received their first dose of the MMR vaccine in the year to March 2023 (blue line), up from 89.2 per cent the previous year. Meanwhile, 88.7 per cent of two-year-olds had both doses, down from 89 per cent a year earlier
Cold-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough and a runny or blocked nose, are usually the first signal of measles. A few days later, some people develop small white spots on the inside of their cheeks and the back of their lips. The tell-tale measles rash also develops, usually starting on the face and behind the ears, before spreading to the rest of the body
Vaccination rates across the country have been dropping, but there are particular concerns about some regions, including parts of London and the West Midlands.
The most recent figures, released by the UKHSA on Friday, showed there have been 216 confirmed measles cases and 103 probable cases in the West Midlands since October 1 last year.
Around eight in ten cases are in Birmingham while one in ten were identified in Coventry, with the majority being in children aged under 10.
Official figures show uptake of the vaccine is at its lowest point in more than a decade with just 84.5 per cent having had received both doses of the jab by age five last year – and 92.5 per cent at one dose.
The highly infectious disease, which typically involves cold-type symptoms and a telltale rash, can lead to severe complications.
It spreads far more easily than Covid, with each patient typically passing the viral infection on to 20 others.
Mike Tildesley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, said: ‘This means we need over 90 per cent of the population to be immune or you’re going to start seeing cases growing.’
He added: ‘We have childhood vaccinations for measles which for many years have helped us to get rid of the disease.
‘Unfortunately, if those vaccination levels drop then we will start to see cases going up and that’s what we are seeing at the moment.’