Cancer patients given warning as deadly illness surges through UK

Health experts have issued an urgent warning to families of children with cancer as cases of measles have skyrocketed in the UK. According to new figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) more than 600 new suspected cases of the highly contagious infection were diagnosed by GPs in just three weeks.

Since the current outbreak began in Birmingham at the start of October, there have been 1,749 lab-confirmed cases.

That includes 1,531 confirmed cases so far in 2024, which is more than quadruple the 362 cases seen all last year and the biggest outbreak in more than a decade.

Separate figures show that in the three weeks up to June 3, the UKHSA has received notifications of 627 suspected cases of measles from GPs in England and Wales.

The viral illness is most dangerous to children and anyone with a weakened immune system – such as cancer patients – are vulnerable to measles complications like pneumonia.

Worst hit has been Birmingham – where the current outbreak began – has had the most suspected cases overall with 382, including 22 in the last three weeks.

Next is Manchester with 141 overall, including nine in the last three weeks, and then Leicester with 132 including 12 most recently.

But Wandsworth in London has had the most suspected cases in the last three weeks with 23, including 10 in the week ending June 2, the latest data available.

You can see the suspected cases near you with our interactive map.

Amid the outbreak the UKHSA has now sent out letters to clinicians around the country offering guidance for protecting patients with weakened immune systems.

That could include cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy as well as people with genetic disorders and certain diseases or conditions.

The guidance sent to clinicians responsible for caring for patients with weakened immune systems warns that “there has been an increase in the number of confirmed measles cases and local outbreaks being reported across England” and that “children under 10 years of age have been particularly affected in the current outbreak”.

Parents are advised to make sure schools and nurseries are aware of the risks and the need to quickly alert the family if any classmates are diagnosed with measles.

People are also advised to ensure all family members and close contacts are fully vaccinated and to seek guidance if anyone with a weakened immune system is exposed to measles.

It is believed the resurgence of the illness, often thought of as a Victorian-era disease, is linked to low take up of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in parts of the country.

In England, 92.5 percent of children had received at least one dose of the MMR vaccine by the age of five in 2022/23, down from 93.4 percent the previous year and below the national target of 95.5 percent.

Only 84.5 percent have received both doses. The World Health Organisation said coverage must be 95 percent or higher to achieve population-level immunity.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKSHA said: “Measles can be a serious infection that can lead to complications especially in young children, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system. Nobody wants to see their child or loved ones sick with measles, or put others who are more vulnerable at risk.

“The best way to protect vulnerable close contacts from measles is the MMR vaccine. Two doses give lifelong protection and it’s never too late to catch up.

“Anyone not up-to-date should make an appointment as soon as possible with their GP practice.”

Measles usually starts with cold-like symptoms such as fever, coughing, sneezing and red and sore watery eyes, followed by a rash a few days later. Some people may also get small spots in their mouth.

Serious complications caused by measles include pneumonia, meningitis, blindness and seizures (fits).

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