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Cases of measles in Europe have reached an eight-year high, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Across the continent, more than 41,000 people have been infected in the first six months of 2018, resulting in 37 deaths.

Despite the WHO confirming that the UK had eliminated measles in 2016, in England, there have been 807 cases so far this year.

So why is there a measles outbreak, what are the symptoms to watch out for and should you get a vaccine? Here's everything you need to know:

What are measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness of the respiratory system which, if left untreated, can have serious complications.

The disease can spread through contact with infected mucus and saliva.

What are the symptoms of measles?

According to the NHS, the initial symptoms of measles typically develop around ten days after you've been infected.

Symptoms include:

  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and a cough
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature which may reach around 40 C
  • small, greyish-white spots on the inside of cheeks

A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear, usually starting on the head of the upper neck before spreading to the rest of the body.

Why is there a measles outbreak?

Public Health England says the outbreaks in England are largely due to people who have travelled to areas of mainland Europe that have had outbreaks.

Growing public scepticism surrounding the vaccine, particularly after research conducted 20 years ago incorrectly linked the MMR vaccine to autism.

What's more, in 2016 the Vaccine Confidence Project found that the European region was the most sceptical in the world on vaccine safety.

This leaves people who don't get vaccinated more vulnerable to contracting the disease.

Are measles deadly?

Measles will usually pass in around 7 to 10 days, but in some cases, it can lead to potentially life-threatening complications.

These include meningitis, febrile convulsions, liver infection (hepatitis), pneumonia and encephalitis (infection of the brain).

Can you get measles more than once?

Once you've developed immunity after a vaccination or suffered from measles once, your body builds up a tolerance, so it's unlikely you'll get measles again.

Who is most at risk of developing measles?

Unvaccinated children are most at risk of developing measles and contracting its subsequent complications.

Pregnant women are also at risk.

Any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected by the virus.

How can you prevent measles?

Routine measles vaccinations for children have been in use for the past 50 years.

According to the WHO, in 2016 about 85% of the world's children received 1 dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services.

In the UK, measles is prevented by giving the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is given in two doses as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

The first dose is given to your child when they are around 13 months old and a second dose is given at age 3 years and 4 months.

Adults and older children can be vaccinated at any age if they haven't been vaccinated before.

Alternatively, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) is used if you're at immediate risk of catching measles.

How do you treat measles?

There is no specific antiviral treatment that exists for measles, but there are several measures you can take to help relieve your symptoms.

These include:

  • taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to soothe fever, aches and pains
  • staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • keeping the curtains closed to reduce light sensitivity
  • using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
  • taking time off work or school for at least 4 days when the rash first appears.

The WHO also recommends that children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements to prevent the risk of eye damage.

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