FAMILIES in Worcestershire are being urged to make sure they are protected against the childhood illness measles.

Although the number of cases of measles in the county has been stable over the past 12 months, a wave of new cases has been reported in other parts of the country and, because measles is highly infectious, families travelling to events such as festivals and holidays in England are being told to make sure their vaccinations are up to date.

Measles is a viral illness which can be very unpleasant and people sometimes develop serious complications. According to the NHS, while most people recover in seven to 10 days, around one in 5,000 people who get measles die as a result of the infection.

The signs include cold-like symptoms, sore eyes, a high temperature and small white-grey spots on the inside of the mouth. A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear. This usually starts on the head or upper neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body. Anyone who develops these symptoms should contact their GP as soon as possible.

People who have already had measles will build up resistance to the virus and it is highly they would get it again.

However, measles can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications in some people including pneumonia and encephalitis - an infection of the brain.

About one in 15 children who get measles will develop complications like diarrhoea and vomiting, middle ear infection, conjunctivitis, laryngitis, pneumonia, bronchitis and croup and fits caused by the fever.

Less common complications of measles include hepatitis, meningitis, encephalitis and misalignment of the eyes due to the virus affecting the nerves and muscles of the eye.

Public Health England (PHE) is reminding people in the West Midlands – particularly those attending festivals and events involving large gatherings of people – to make sure their MMR vaccines are up to date.

It says a 36 cases, linked to music festivals and other large public events, have been reported since June. This follows a national increase in the number of cases over the year with 234 cases confirmed between January and June. In the same period last year there were just 54 cases.

Dr James Chipwete, lead consultant on vaccine preventable disease with PHE West Midlands, said: “Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications. It is extremely infectious, so events where people are mixing closely with each other provide the ideal place for the infection to spread.

“Measles can be more severe in teenagers and adults, with some of the recent cases needing hospital treatment. The disease isn’t common these days because most of us are vaccinated, but young people who missed their MMR jab as children are vulnerable, especially if gathered in large numbers at an event.”

Councillor John Smith, cabinet member with Responsibility for Health and Well-being said: "It's important to make sure you and your family are up to date with vaccinations. We don't consider this to be a significant issue in Worcestershire as the number of cases of measles has not increased compared to last year.

"However, young people who missed their MMR jab as children are vulnerable, especially if gathered in large numbers at an event. As well as keeping up with vaccinations, I would urge people to be aware of the symptoms, such as a high fever and rash, and not to attend festivals if they feel unwell and are worried they might have measles."