August 17, 2008

Huge Rise in Measles and Scarlet Fever Health Experts Blame Fear of MMR Jab


CASES of measles and scarlet fever in Scotland have rocketed by up to 20 times in the past year.

The number of confirmed cases of measles nationwide reached 68 in June - compared to just three in the same time period last year.

Numbers may rise again as the latest figures from Health Protection Scotland (HPS) reveal a further 50per cent jump in the number of suspected cases of measles from 108 in 2007 to 159 so far this year.

At the same time scarlet fever cases continued to spiral to their highest levels in a decade with more than 700 cases this year - three times the 2007 figure.

The rise in measles is largely due to an outbreak earlier this year when 54 cases were confirmed, mostly in Lothian and Greater Glasgow .

None of the patients confirmed to have measles was fully immunised, fuelling fears that lasting concerns over the safety of the MMR vaccine are putting people at greater risk of developing the potentially deadly disease.

In England, where MMR uptake rates have been hit harder by the now widely discredited suggested link to autism, a new government campaign has been launched to urge more people to receive the full jab. It follows the death in June of a 17-year-old from West Yorkshire, who was Britain's second person to die of measles in 16 years.

Experts at HPS stressed that Scotland was better protected because the MMR vaccination rate was higher than in England, at 91.2per cent for twoyear-olds and 94.3per cent for children by the age of five.

But they warned there was still a risk of more outbreaks and said uptake rates were still below the so-called "herd immunity" level of 95per cent.

Dr Jim McMenamin, consultant epidemiologist for HPS, said: "Scotland enjoys a higher vaccination uptake for MMR . . . There is then less risk of clusters or outbreaks of measles n Scotland and a higher likelihood that they will be relatively small and stop more quickly. " On the rise in scarlet fever, he said people should not be alarmed because while there was no vaccine, the disease is now successfully treated with antibiotics.

The 731 cases in 2008, up from 226 last year, are the highest recorded since 1998, when there were 883 cases. Dr McMenamin said that the peak was part of the natural cycle of the disease.

Concerns over the safety of the MMR vaccination broke out in the 1990s when Dr Andrew Wakefield said he believed he had uncovered a link between the jab and bowel disease and autism.

His research, published in the Lancet, caused a large drop in the number of children given the triple jab for measles, mumps and rubella. Uptake rates for the UK at two years are now stable at 84.1per cent.

Dr Wakefield is currently appearing before the General Medical Council on charges relating to the research. Government medical officers backed by other studies have said there is no proven link between MMR and autism.

In 2006 the Scottish Executive launched a catch-up campaign for MMR, targeting those who had missed the jab.

Mary Scanlon, Tory health spokeswoman, called on the government to act on a call made by Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon when she was in opposition for single jabs to be offered as an alternative to the triple jab.

Ms Sturgeon, meanwhile, said that following a "weight" of recent research and the advice of independent expert groups she now felt that the MMR vaccine was the best way to protect children.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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