The number of cases in the Swansea measles epidemic has reached 620, with health officials warning there is no sign of the outbreak coming to an end. The figure released this week is up 32 on last week, with up to 20 new cases being confirmed every day.
However, one grandmother is also warning young mums to immunise their babies with the MMR vaccine to prevent a new outbreak of rubella which caused her own son to be born blind, deaf and dumb.
Sufffolk based Liz Royle’s son Bruce is now in his forties but has the mental age of a small child and Liz has to provide 24 hour care for him because of his disability. ‘I caught rubella very early on in the pregnancy and was told it was too early to affect my unborn baby’ Liz explains.
When Bruce was born however it he spent the first three months of his life in hospital with cataracts and a heart condition. ‘In those days there was no vaccination against rubella-these days young mums have a choice and I do urge them to get their children vaccinated’ says Liz.
Experts are worried that just like measles, rubella could also re-emerge in the community. Takeup of the MMR vaccination currently stands at around 81% which is not enough to give what is known as ‘herd immunity’. ‘The effects of rubella on the unborn child include impairment to eyes, ears, heart, brain and nervous system’ says Royle.
SENSE-the charity which supports people who have disabilities caused by rubella-also warns of the risks. ‘Immunisation is the only way to protect against rubella. Avoiding people with rubella is not an effective way of protecting yourself from the disease and passing it on to your unborn child. The more children vaccinated the less chance rubella has of circulating’ a spokesperson said today.
Since the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988 the numbers of children affected by rubella have fallen dramatically. However, the disease is still common in countries which do not have effective immunisation programmes. According to SENSE outbreaks can still occur especially if uptake levels of the MMR jab drop too low. ‘To prevent an outbreak it is essential most of the population are immune. The maths is easy-if the numbers of children who are immunised start to fall then rubella will reappear in the community’ says the charity.
One young mum left in no doubt about her decision to immunise both her children is Liz Royle’s daughter Sarah Speers. Sarah was pregnant with her own daughter when the MMR story first broke in the media and found it difficult to get the information she needed to make an informed decision. ‘The choice for me was never whether to vaccinate but whether single jabs were better for my baby’ she says.
Box copy/What is Rubella?
Rubella-also known as German measles-is a mild disease caused by a virus. Symptoms include swollen glands, sore throat and a slightly raised temperature-there may be a rash or discomfort in the joints.
The danger is catching it when you are pregnant because it is passed on to the unborn child. The disease then affects the ears, eyes, heart, brain and nervous system. Many children have hearing loss in one or both ears. Some babies are born with cataracts in one or both eyes.
Box copy/The Rubella controversy
A study published in 1998 suggesting there may be a link between MMR and autism was put forward by Dr Andrew Wakefield who was later drummed out of the NHS by the General Medical Council. However the repercussions of his research have been far reaching with many parents refusing to have their children immunised with the MMR vaccine for fear of them contracting autism or bowel disease.