QUESTION: I have been asked by my son’s school to make sure he received two doses of the MMR vaccine when he was younger.
He is now aged 13. He has never had the MMR vaccine as I was very worried about any possible problems with having it when he was young. However, surely he is not at risk of developing measles now? Should he still be vaccinated?
Dr Louise Newson of Shirley Medical Centre replies:
The simple answer is yes definitely. Measles is a highly infectious illness. Physical contact, coughing and sneezing can spread it. In addition, infected droplets of mucus can remain active and contagious for around two hours. This means that the virus can live outside the body, for example on surfaces and door handles.
It takes between six and 21 days for the virus to cause symptoms. The most common signs are a high fever, sore eyes and a runny nose.
Small white spots usually develop inside the mouth a day or so later and a cough often starts. The typical measles rash is red and blotchy which usually develops three to four days after the first symptoms.
It usually starts on the head and neck, and spreads down the body. It takes 2-3 days to cover most of the body. The rash often turns brownish and gradually fades over a few days.
Although most children are better within seven to 10 days, serious complications can occur. Some people die from measles each year.
In addition, the risk of complications in adults are far greater than those in children. There is no specific medicine that kills the virus.
It is so important to ensure that your son has been vaccinated against measles.
It has recently been estimated that more than a million schoolchildren in the UK could be susceptible to measles due to the MMR vaccine scare. Many of these children are now in secondary schools. Immunisation is routine in the UK as part of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Two doses are given to children - the first for those aged about 13 months and the second about three years later (as part of the pre-school booster). Immunisation gives excellent protection.
Although the vast majority of children now receive the MMR vaccine, this was not the case a decade ago.
One researcher (Dr Andrew Wakefield) published a paper in the Lancet in 1998 which claimed that there was a link between the MMR vaccination and autism.
However, it was found that this research was inaccurate and fraudulent. There is absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.