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Encephalitis Is A Growing UK Threat Due To Surge In Measles Cases, warns Brain Inflammation Charity

Encephalitis International (EI), a leading global charity today announced that encephalitis (a life-threatening brain inflammation) is a growing UK threat due to a ‘measles emergency’ in the UK.

This warning follows a recent update from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), revealing that this year there have been almost 900 cases of measles in the first four months of this year – a sharp increase from 368 cases in all of 2023.

Dr Ava Easton, Chief Executive of Encephalitis International, said: “The surge in measles cases which is due to decreasing levels of MMR vaccine uptake is deeply alarming.

Unless this trend is reversed, we will see many more children at risk of encephalitis – a complication of measles which cuts young lives short and can cause brain injuries[1]. No parent would want to knowingly expose their child to that.

Our message is clear: the measles infection is not a harmless childhood disease, and the best protection is always vaccination. At Encephalitis International, we will continue to do everything we can to arm parents with accurate, up-to-date information and dispel myths and misconceptions that are preventing MMR uptake”.

 

Encephalitis, which kills up to 6000 people a year in the UK, literally means ‘swelling of the brain’. Measles along with the chicken pox virus (varicella-zoster), and herpes simplex virus (HSV) are causes of the most common forms of encephalitis in the UK (infectious encephalitis). The condition can also be caused by immune system problems and bacterial, parasitic or fungal infections.

Up to three children out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis – and up to 15 per cent of those will die. Furthermore, one in 25,000 children with measles will develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), which always leads to death.[2]

 

Parents are advised to seek urgent medical attention if their child has measles and develops symptoms such as drowsiness, confusion or seizures. Early detection and treatment of measles encephalitis is the key to better outcomes[3].

 

Professor Benedict Michael, Director of The Infection Neuroscience Lab at the University of Liverpool and Consultant Neurologist at The Walton Centre added: “It is not acceptable that in the 21st century we have children dying or living with long term disability due to encephalitis caused by the measles infection, which is completely preventable with vaccination. This is particularly troubling as three million plus children are now unvaccinated against measles. Urgent action is needed to ensure children get vaccinated now”.

 

Today’s warning coincides with World Immunization Week (24th – 30th April) which the charity is supporting with a vaccine awareness campaign, designed to raise both public and healthcare professional’s understanding of encephalitis and the vaccines with a series of events and digital resources. Please visit the Encephalitis International website for more information.

 

[1] Measles (who.int)

[2] Measles infection and encephalitis – Encephalitis International

[3] Encephalitis – NHS (www.nhs.uk)