Image copyright S, a / public domain Image caption In April the Australian government urged the public to use extreme caution in travel to Fiji
A new strain of measles which is spread by coughs and sneezes is now in the UK. The new measles cases are among adults.
The World Health Organisation said it is “an ongoing health crisis”.
Experts said it was important people made sure their children were vaccinated and for the UK government to offer people born in the 70s and 80s a vaccination.
In a two week period between 5 and 8 December, 47 cases of measles have been reported in the UK.
The number rose to 48 by 21 December and there are still an unknown number of cases, the Department of Health (DH) said.
Dr Catherine Fisher, deputy director of the National Health Service’s Immunisation Action Programme, said: “Measles can cause terrible complications including serious pneumonia, brain inflammation and deafness.
“Given measles was eradicated in the UK 25 years ago, this news is disappointing but not surprising – parents who have not given their children their mumps and measles MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunisation would do well to make sure they are up to date now.”
In February, Australia urged the public to use extreme caution in travel to Fiji – the first widespread transmission of the highly contagious virus in more than 30 years.
The WHO said that, globally, 1.4 million new cases are reported every year. The most common strain of measles remains Mervalena encephalitisella, also known as merveilleuse gastroenteritis (ME) or measles virus mogen.
Image copyright S, a / public domain Image caption The WHO said the new strain is spreading between human contact
“These are children and adults with no known immunity, but, as in April, adults are now increasingly being infected,” explained the WHO.
What is a ‘code red’?
Infectious disease expert Dr Hilary Haffner, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “The only way of stopping the spread of this virus is to stop it before it spreads. The best defence is a fully vaccinated population.”
Dr Peter Openshaw, clinical director of the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Imperial College London agreed, but said it is not easy.
“It is virtually impossible to completely avoid any human contact, from running into someone you know to eating in a restaurant.
“This mutation has changed the relationship between infected people and the rest of us.
“With a new family of virus viruses, muddled genetics and genes for some ancestors creating a simple spread mechanism, human contact is the main interface through which these viruses can spread.
“But the good news is that after all this time, there is still no significant vaccine resistance.”
Switzerland has raised the health alert level on its borders to “code red” level. It has been designated “endemic” across France and Bulgaria as well.
Experts say this means local authorities have confirmed there has been an outbreak, not an imported case.
In the UK, the DH has launched its winter vaccination campaign for children aged 12 to 13, which it promised would last until April.
Dr Andrew Grant, medical director at the BMA, said: “Measles vaccination rates have remained high, and we are seeing vaccination rates rising in a number of states, including the USA and Australia.”
He added: “We do not want to exaggerate the current situation but it’s quite clear that we’re facing a new and potentially more serious threat than MMR vaccine from measles virus in the UK.”