Measles outbreak hits Europe

Measles in babies

Measles is spreading across Europe with the potential to cause large outbreaks. Babies under one and people who have not been immunised are most at risk of contracting the highly contagious virus. Here are the symptoms to be aware of

Which countries are affected by the measles outbreak?

Romania and Italy are experiencing the largest current measles outbreaks, say the World Health Organisation. Across Europe, there were more than 500 measles cases in January 2017, and it has been reported that preliminary figures show a sharp rise for February. Measles continues to spread within and among European countries, with the potential to cause large outbreaks wherever immunisation coverage has dropped below the necessary threshold of 95%, says the WHO.

“With steady progress towards elimination over the past two years, it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Today's travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus. Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”

What are the symptoms of measles?

The first symptoms of measles appear around 10 days after infection, says the NHS. These can include:

  • A running nose, sneezing and a cough.
  • Sore eyes which might be sensitive to light.
  • A high temperature of around 40°C.
  • Small white spots on the insides of your cheeks

A full-body rash appears a few days after these symptoms.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

The measles vaccine is incredibly effective, and so measles is now uncommon in the UK. If you think you or your child has measles, you should contact your GP. If you haven't been fully vaccinated (had two doses of the MMR) or haven't had measles previously, you should let your GP know if you've been in contact with someone who has had measles. The MMR vaccine is given in two doses to babies and children before they start school.

Measles in babies

measles full body rash

Because the first dose of the measles vaccine is not given until 13 months, babies under one are one of the groups most at risk of measles. If you think your baby is showing symptoms of measles, contact your doctor. Your baby should get better in a week or so, but babies very occasionally develop complications which can include vomiting, pneumonia, and febrile convulsions.

If your baby is under six months and you have immunity to measles, it is likely that you passed on your antibodies during pregnancy and he is protected. If your baby is over six months old and has been exposed to measles, it is possible that in some cases he will be given the MMR early, but you should contact your doctor for advice.

Measles in pregnancy

The NHS says that if you're not immune to measles and become infected while you're pregnant there is a risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. There is also a risk that your baby will be born prematurely and have a low birth weight.

How does measles spread?

Measles is highly contagious and spreads through droplets which come out of the nose and mouth of an infected person when they cough or sneeze. You can catch measles by breathing in these droplets. The measles virus can also survive on surfaces for a few hours. Measles is contagious until about four days after an infected person develops a rash.

The WHO recommends that at least 95% of a country's population is vaccinated against the measles because it is so highly contagious.

“I urge all endemic countries to take urgent measures to stop transmission of measles within their borders, and all countries that have already achieved this to keep up their guard and sustain high immunisation coverage. Together we must make sure that the hard-earned progress made towards regional elimination is not lost,” said Dr Jakab.