Measles used to be a very common childhood condition, something that almost all children would experience in the way that children get chicken pox today.
Whilst for most children it was an unpleasant but mostly harmless illness, some children developed devastating, even fatal, complications. During the infection, some children develop inflammation of the brain which can kill, but will also leave about a quarter of children who survive it with permanent brain damage. Perhaps more frightening is the condition known as ‘subacute sclerosing panencephalitis’. This extremely rare complication occurs up to 10 years after an apparently normal infection and recovery from measles, and causes progressive and irreversible brain damage that invariably leads to death.
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus found in the nose and throat. It spreads easily when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. Symptoms start with a cough, fever and then a red, blotchy skin rash shows up, usually on the face first before spreading down the body.
You should see a doctor if symptoms get worse. The main serious symptoms to look out for are: drowsiness, dehydration, breathing difficulties and fits/convulsions.
Because of these potentially devastating complications, measles vaccination (in the form of the MMR vaccine) was introduced into the UK vaccination schedule in the late 1980s. This mass vaccination of children meant that measles all but disappeared from the UK.
Unfortunately, concern was raised about the safety of the vaccine by a doctor called Andrew Wakefield who published fraudulent research in 1998 claiming a link between MMR and autism. This ‘research’ has now been comprehensively refuted and is universally condemned by all credible medical professionals. Andrew Wakefield was subsequently struck off the medical register and is not allowed to practice as a doctor in the UK. However, the damage had already been done and vaccine uptake fell sharply.
‘Herd immunity’ became a dirty term during the covid pandemic when it was suggested that the disease should be allowed to run free in the population, but this is actually the concept by which vaccines generally work. No vaccine is 100% effective but, if mass vaccination makes the majority of people immune to an illness, then there are no longer enough non-immune people for the disease to spread and so it dies out. This is what should have happened with measles but, due to the dip in uptake around the turn of the millennium, it hasn’t. In fact, we are currently seeing rising numbers of cases in the UK with recent outbreaks amongst school children in the West Midlands and Yorkshire.
On 19 January, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the public-health authority, declared a national incident over rising cases of measles. As of 31 January the agency has logged more than 300 cases in England since 1 October 2023.
If you have had two doses of MMR (which is standard in the UK now), you can be reasonably confident that you are protected, but many adults – particularly those born before the 1980s – do not know their vaccine status, or whether they had the illness as a child (which would confer immunity naturally).
For those who don’t know their immunity status and who feel they may be at higher risk of measles because, for example, they work in healthcare or with children, there are two options.
First, is to have two doses of the MMR now which should provide immunity.
Second, is to undertake a measles blood test which can prove definitively if you have immunity.
The measles blood test checks for two antibodies: Measles IgM which is a marker of current infection, and Measles IgG which proves either previous vaccination or previous infection.
If you would like to take a measles blood test, you can do so by booking an appointment at one of our Blood testing clinics. Find out more here.
Measles should not be seen as a harmless illness and there is currently a big public health drive to make sure that the UK population is immune so that measles can become an illness of the past as, arguably, it should be already.
At One Day Tests our objective is simple, offering customers instant access to blood testing and providing them with easy to understand results that they can use to decide their next steps in their health journey.
Key benefits for taking a blood test
Early Detention: Identify potential health issues in their early stages
Health Status: Gain knowledge of how your body is currently functioning
Peace of Mind: Get reassurance about your health and knowledge that will help you to make informed decisions
We offer over 140 different blood tests, that can be taken in one of our walk-in clinics or via a finger prick test in the comfort of your own home.
Click here to find out more about our range of blood tests