Birmingham measles outbreak: how to spot symptoms including rash as cases rise

Birmingham is currently grappling with a measles outbreak - here's how to spot the signs of the disease
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Birmingham Children's Hospital has recorded its highest number of measles cases in children in decades.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show that there have been more than 50 children in need of hospital treatment over December.

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The research shows suspected cases of measles in England and Wales recorded in 2023 have more than doubled from the previous year. KHSA found 1,603 "likely" cases of measles in England and Wales in 2023, up from 735 in 2022, and just 360 the year before.  Suspected cases are later taken for confirmation via laboratory tests but not all are found to be measles. In England, there were 167 confirmed cases between January and October 2023.

In October 2023, figures revealed that Birmingham missed the target for children's vaccination levels against measles, mumps and rubella in 2022. An epidemiologist warned at the time that the national downward trend in uptake is a "serious concern" as the diseases can be life-changing and even deadly.

The 2023 NHS figures showed 75.1% of youngsters in Birmingham had both doses of the MMR vaccine by their fifth birthday in 2022-23 – below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation. It was also a fall from 76.7% coverage the year before.

It comes as UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show the West Midlands had at least 167 laboratory confirmed cases with a further 88 likely cases.

Birmingham Children’s HospitalBirmingham Children’s Hospital
Birmingham Children’s Hospital

How to spot signs of measles in children

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According to the NHS website, Measles usually starts with cold-like symptoms, followed by a rash a few days later. Some people may also get small spots in their mouth.

Cold-like symptoms

The first symptoms of measles include:

  • a high temperature
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • a cough
  • red, sore, watery eyes

Small white spots may appear inside the cheeks and on the back of the lips a few days later. These spots usually last a few days.

The spots of the measles rash are sometimes raised and join together to form blotchy patches.The spots of the measles rash are sometimes raised and join together to form blotchy patches.
The spots of the measles rash are sometimes raised and join together to form blotchy patches.

The measles rash

A rash usually appears a few days after the cold-like symptoms.

The rash starts on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body. The spots of the measles rash are sometimes raised and join together to form blotchy patches. They're not usually itchy.The rash looks brown or red on white skin. It may be harder to see on brown and black skin.

What's been said about the rising cases in Birmingham?

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Cabinet Member for Health and Social Councillor Mariam Khan has issued a statement following the outbreak. She said: "Measles is curently circulating in Birmingham. It is very infectious and it can cause serious health issues for unvaccinated people.

"The best protection against measles is the MMR vaccine, which can be given at any age. If you are not sure if you or your child are vaccinated check your red book or contact your GP. Vaccines are a safe way to protect you from getting seriously unwell, and there is a type widely available which doesn't contain pork products for those who have concerns due to religious beliefs.

"Peope in certain at-risk groups include small children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people."

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