Measles anguish

A child suffering from measles
A child suffering from measles
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AS many people in Wigan went down with measles in the first half of this year than the rest of Greater Manchester put together.

Shocking new figures show that from January to June no fewer than 121 cases of the potentially deadly illness were confirmed in the borough - out of a county-wide total of 242.

Medical experts today suggested that Wiganers were just unlucky outbreak victims rather than locals suffering because of abnormally low immunisation uptake.

In fact Wigan’s MMR inoculation rate is said to be on a par with other areas and this will have risen further when the local authorities responded to reports earlier this year of infection rates on the rise with a major vaccination and promotion drive.

And that work – which included targeting a number of local high schools because the majority of cases fell within the secondary education age range – now seems to be bearing fruit.

Since the beginning of July there have only been two unconfirmed measles cases in Wigan borough and hopes are growing that the outbreak is at an end.

Dr Vinay Bothra, consultant in communicable disease control for Public Health England, said: “Measles is extremely infectious and so once it gets into a community in can spread very quickly. The latest outbreak really got started towards the end of last year and there were a number of cases in Liverpool, Cumbria and Lancashire.

“I suspect that Wigan, because it was sandwiched between some of these areas, was hit several times in succession. It didn’t have more cases than others because of low vaccine uptake because it isn’t unduly low in Wigan.

“And the local authority and health bodies worked hard during the outbreak, highlighting the value of the MMR and its booster and going into secondary schools because a large number of the patients were between 10 and 16 years old.

“Some people who were hitherto unvaccinated received their MMR while others, who had only had one vaccine, were given the

booster.

“And while we cannot predict with too much certainty, it does look like the current outbreak is coming to a close. I would hope also that the measures taken locally in the last few months will also help to reduce cases in future outbreaks.”

Cases of measles in Greater Manchester as a whole fell during June, with 36 confirmed cases. This is down from 49 cases in May and follows the nationwide roll-out of the national MMR catch-up programme. Across England as a whole, there were 113 cases in June, compared to 193 for May.

In Wigan the worst month of the year so far was March where 33 new cases were confirmed and while the rate of cases per 100,000 residents was in most parts of Greater Manchester in single figures, in Wigan the rate was 76.6.

Longer term plans for the elimination of the sustained transmission of measles will involve improving and sustaining the high coverage of MMR for younger children, and also implementing routine catch-up opportunities for older children – for example when changing schools or receiving other teenage booster vaccinations.