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Home News centre National Press Releases 2013 Press Releases ›  Measles at highest level for 18 years

Measles at highest level for 18 years

8 February 2013

There were 2,016 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in 2012, which is the highest annual total since 1994.

The measles cases identified during 2012 have been associated with prolonged outbreaks in Merseyside and Sussex, as well as several smaller outbreaks in travelling communities across England and Wales.

The UK along with France, Italy, Spain and Romania accounted for 87 per cent of the total 7,392 measles cases reported throughout the European Union countries up to the end of November 2012.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “Coverage of MMR is now at historically high levels but measles is highly infectious and can spread easily among communities that are poorly vaccinated, and can affect anyone who is susceptible, including toddlers in whom vaccination has been delayed. Older children who were not vaccinated at the routine age, who may now be teenagers, are at particular risk of becoming exposed, while at school for example.

“Measles continues to circulate in several European countries that are popular with holidaymakers. Measles is a highly infectious disease so the only way to prevent outbreaks is to make sure the UK has good uptake of the MMR vaccine, and that when cases are reported, immediate public health action is taken to target unvaccinated individuals in the vicinity as soon as possible.”

Symptoms of measles include:

  • cold-like symptoms
  • red eyes and sensitivity to light
  • fever
  • greyish white spots in the mouth and throat
  • After a few days a red-brown spotty rash will appear. It usually starts behind the ears, then spreads around the head and neck before spreading to the legs and the rest of the body.

Dr Ramsay continued: “Measles is often associated with being a disease of the past and as a result people may be unaware that it is a dangerous infection that can lead to death in severe cases. Parents should ensure their children are fully protected against measles, mumps and rubella with two doses of the MMR vaccine. Parents of unvaccinated children, as well as older teenagers and adults who may have missed MMR vaccination, should make an appointment with their GP to get vaccinated.

“If you are unsure if you or your child has had two doses of the vaccine, speak to their GP who will have a record.”


Notes to editors

1. For a copy of the full report please visit 

2. Table: Number of confirmed cases of measles by month of onset and region, January to December 2012: England and Wales

Month of onset in 2102 London East Midlands East of England North East North West South East South West West Midlands Wales York &
January 11 0 0 0 3 21 2 1 2 0 40
February 6 0 2 0 63 10 3 2 26 0 112
March 18 0 4 0 92 23 0 0 9 1 147
April 16 0 6 0 85 58 1 9 15 0 190
May 40 1 11 1 93 110 5 11 10 3 285
June 13 0 2 0 57 97 8 8 0 8 193
July 9 6 6 0 48 39 14 14 0 14 150
August 9 20 2 1 62 10 3 25 2 3 137
September 5 8 5 4 80 6 1 22 2 20 153
October 1 12 3 3 47 5 17 14 0 43 145
November 3 6 4 9 112 1 13 9 27 40 224
December 6 3 4 33 123 3 26 5 23 14 240
Total 2012 137 56 49 51 865 383 93 120 116 146 2016

3. In response to the increase in the number of measles cases reported among members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities in August, the HPA prepared a leaflet specifically for travelling communities about measles and MMR vaccination. This is designed to help NHS staff and others who work with travellers explain the risks of measles, the signs and symptoms to look out for and the importance of MMR vaccination. Please visit the Measles page for more information.

4. For further general information on measles, mumps and rubella and the MMR vaccination, please refer to the HPA website's MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) Vaccine page.

5.  For a historical breakdown of figures, please visit the HPA webstie's Epidemiological Data page. Why there are two sets of measles classifications on the HPA website – notifications and confirmed cases. The last major measles outbreak was in in 1994, up until then measles cases were counted through notifications – where a doctor would report based on symptoms. Studies of notifications during the early 1990s suggested that not all of these clinical cases were measles and that the proportion that was due to other causes was increasing. Following the November 1994 mass campaign to immunise school aged children a new system of testing every notified case to confirm whether or not it was genuine measles case was introduced. From 1995 onwards, therefore, only confirmed cases are counted.

6. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website:  or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk or ‘Like’ us on Facebook at [external link]

7. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.


Last reviewed: 8 February 2013