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The war on measles

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  Posted by: The Probe      20th March 2020

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious and potentially fatal diseases. The UK had been largely free of measles until recently, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) revoked Britain’s eradication status, making it another of many countries in Europe to experience a dramatic resurgence of the disease. In the first half of this year alone, there have been 90,000 reported cases of measles within the European region, which exceeds recorded measles cases for the whole of 2018. The biggest outbreaks of measles worldwide are in countries with low vaccination coverage – whether currently or in the past – which has left many people vulnerable to infection.[i]

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious virus that is primarily characterised by a cough, fever, rash or spots inside the mouth that typically pass within 7 to 10 days. You can catch measles by breathing in droplets of bodily fluids that contain the virus, or by touching your nose, mouth or eyes after coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. With the ability to survive on surfaces for several hours, measles is infectious to the extent that an individual can contract it if they spend just 15 minutes with someone who is infected.[ii] When enough people are exposed to measles but are not immune to it, the disease can spread very quickly. Those who contract it are infectious from the moment symptoms develop until approximately four days after a rash first appears. 

Anyone can catch measles if they are not vaccinated or have not had the virus before, but it is most common in young children. Although measles can be very unpleasant, many people are able to overcome and develop an immunity to it, and are unlikely to catch it again. However, measles can sometimes cause life-threatening complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis, which are serious infections of the lungs and brain. Additionally, measles can damage and supress the body’s immune system, meaning people who have had measles are more likely to suffer from other illnesses. This effect can last for as long as three years after someone has recovered from measles.[iii]  

How can measles be prevented?

There is currently no cure for measles, but it can be prevented by having the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This is delivered in two doses – often with the first dose given to one-year-old children, and the second dose when they are around 3 years and 4 months old – but anyone can be vaccinated against measles regardless of their age.[iv] Public Health England has estimated that 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been averted since a measles vaccine was introduced in the UK over 50 years ago.[v] Despite its proven efficacy and safety, many people across Britain and, indeed, the world are forgoing the MMR vaccine altogether.

The reasons for this vary significantly between communities and countries, but include poor access to quality healthcare/vaccination services, conflict and displacement, and a lack of awareness about the need to vaccinate.i Recent measles outbreaks have also been blamed on the anti-vaccination movement, which has grown in part due to misinformation about vaccines circulating on social media and discouraging parents from immunising their children against measles and other illnesses. The WHO has condemned this trend for being as contagious and dangerous as the diseases that measles helps to spread.[vi]

Infection prevention and control

The UK government is now pushing for further action to boost vaccination rates, which involves educating the public on the importance of immunisation. Dental professionals have a significant role to play in this, but they also have a responsibility to implement suitable measures to prevent the spread of measles. This involves thoroughly cleaning and sterilising all surfaces in the dental practice, maintaining effective hand hygiene, and using personal protective equipment where appropriate. Decontamination and sterilization of dental instruments is also essential, as improper processing of tools can put both patients and staff at risk of coming into contact with the measles virus. 

The equipment you choose to process instruments with can make all the difference to the end result and safety of your practice. Therefore, it is important to select reliable, proven solutions that support infection prevention and control procedures, but also enable you to streamline your decontamination workflow. W&H offers the new Teon+ thermal washer disinfector for superior automatic cleaning of dental instruments. W&H also offers a full range of high quality sterilizers. This includes the new Lara and a new generation Lisa type B vacuum sterilizer with patented Eco Dry+ technology, which reduces the cycle time and optimises energy consumption for truly efficient sterilization.

With measles cases on the rise worldwide – especially amongst younger patients – dental professionals cannot afford to let infection prevention and control standards fall by the wayside. Clinicians must be prepared to tackle measles and other infectious diseases head on. By complying with best practice protocols and investing in effective decontamination solutions, the dental team can protect themselves and patients from the risk of disease transmission. This is essential if clinicians are to help prevent measles from becoming a serious epidemic in the UK.


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[i] World Health Organisation. (2019) New measles surveillance data from WHO. Link: [Last accessed: 30.08.19].

[ii] NHS. (2017) Measles outbreak: what to do. Link: [Last accessed: 30.08.19].

[iii] NHS. (2018) Overview: Measles. Link: [Last accessed: 30.08.19].

[iv] NHS. (2018) Who should have the MMR vaccine? Link: [Last accessed: 30.08.19].

[v] Public Health England. (2018) 50 years of measles vaccination in the UK. Link: [Last accessed: 30.08.19].

[vi] Lindmeier, C. (2019) WHO Director-General Statement on the Role of Social Media Platforms in Health Information. WHO. Link: [Last accessed: 30.08.19].

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