A handful of deadly Victorian diseases could make a comeback this year as children return to classrooms, where bugs can spread easily, an expert fears.
Official figures show that the number of vaccinations against several different pathogens is at record lows.
Reduced vaccination rates put school-age children and their families at risk of contracting deadly diseases such as measles.
“Unless more children are vaccinated before they return, there is a very high possibility that outbreaks will occur,” Prof Helen Bedford, child public health expert at University College London, told The Sun.
As part of The Sun’s Back To School series, we’re here this week to help you and your child start the new school year in the best possible way, physically and mentally.
From controlling nits to preparing nutritious packed lunches, to identifying mental health issues early and knowing how to vaccinate children, we have come to the right place for you and your family.
Measles, mumps and rubella
About one in 10 children returning to school this September did not get both doses of the life-saving MMR vaccine, which protects children from measles, mumps and rubella.
In the UK, children can be vaccinated against serious infections from the age of one year and again at the age of three years and four months.
According to the UK Health Security Agency, around 20 to 40 percent of children who contract it are hospitalized.
“Even an uncomplicated episode of measles is pretty bad, it makes children feel nauseous, they get a very high fever and a rash,” said Prof. Helen.
Expectant mothers who contract the virus are at risk of miscarriage.
Although rubella is relatively harmless to children, it can also be serious in pregnant women – it can be transmitted by children who are not vaccinated.
“If a woman contracts rubella during early pregnancy, the child can be born with serious birth defects that result in devastating long-term health problems such as brain damage and heart defects,” said Prof. Helen.
Symptoms of rubella include a patchy rash that is rough to the touch, with swollen glands in the neck, sore fingers, wrists, or knees, and a high temperature.
Mumps is a contagious viral infection that causes severe swelling of the throat and face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive “hamster face.”
In children, it usually progresses without serious complications.
However, in some cases — particularly in adults and babies — viral infection can occur meningitis when the virus gets to the outer layer of the brain.
Meningitis is inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
It can be very serious if not treated quickly.
“We also need to consider the serious risk that teachers and younger siblings face if these children are not vaccinated,” added Prof Helen.
The expert is also concerned about children who are in sixth grade or college and may have missed their MMR shot.
“These diseases tend to get much worse with age.
“So a 17-year-old would get sick a lot more often than a five-year-old.”
To maintain herd immunity, the World Health Organization has set a target of 95 percent vaccination coverage.
But the UK is well below that target: uptake of the first dose of the MMR vaccine in children aged two in England is 85.6 per cent, the lowest in a decade
If you or your child haven’t received both doses of MMR, you can still ask your GP for the vaccine, the NHS says.
Since 1988, when the life-saving vaccine was first introduced, these diseases have become rare in the UK.
However, outbreaks of disease, particularly measles, continue to occur when the number of people vaccinated has declined.
whooping coughdiphtheria, tetanus and polio
Vaccination rates for the three-in-one vaccine, which protects children from deadly whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and polio, have also fallen sharply.
The life-saving six-in-one vaccine, which provides protection from the insects, is given in booster shots to children as young as four weeks and four more times up to age 15 to maintain immunity.
However, data from UKHSA suggests that uptake of the booster vaccine offered to 13 and 14 year olds in Year 9 has fallen in the 2021/22 school year, leaving many young children unprotected from life-threatening diseases.
Prof Helen said: “During Covid, when we were all in lockdown, the number of these diseases went down.”
“Now that we have a vulnerable population, with more children than usual not being vaccinated, we could see an increase in cases.”
She said she was particularly concerned about whooping cough, a bacterial infection that affects the lungs.
“School-age children don’t usually get that sick, they might just have a nasty cough.”
“But these children could have siblings who are still babies, and babies are at risk of a serious death if they contract it.”
The evil bug can stop a baby’s breathing or lead to pneumonia, brain damage or weight loss.
The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, such as cough, runny nose and sore throat.
Some people with the virus may make a “wheeze” sound — a gasp for air between coughing fits.
The number of diphtheria cases in the UK has skyrocketed over the past two years.
The highly contagious bacterial infection can cause breathing difficulties, heart problems and even death.
Most cases, however, were found among migrants housed in processing centers.
The risk for the general public, including school children, is currently assessed as low.
As part of the NHS vaccination schedule, children aged eight, 12 and 16 weeks can get a shot against the infection, as well as a pre-school booster shot.
According to data, scarlet fever infections last year reached their highest level in nearly 70 years, causing many deaths in school-age children.
So far this year, the cases are still low.
It is caused by the Strep A bacterium, which can lead to tonsillitis and the skin infection impetigo.
While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, the bacteria can cause a life-threatening illness called invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS).).
A total of 426 people – including 48 children – died from iGAS in England last winter.
For comparison, the 2017-2018 season saw a total of 354 deaths, including 27 deaths in children under the age of 18.
Experts feared that a lack of socialization among children during the Covid pandemic may have led to a drop in the population’s immunity.
Symptoms of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high fever, sore throat, and swollen cervical glands.
There is also a red, raised rash on the chest and abdomen that spreads to other parts of the body.
The NHS recommends people see their GP if their sore throat doesn’t improve after a week, if they’re worried, have a high fever or feel hot and shivering.
So far this year, cases appear to be “stable”, UKHSA said in its latest update.
In 2016, a few cases of scarlet fever were reported between July 9 and August 27 of this summer, compared to 3661 cases in the same period in 2022.
The incidence of scarlet fever declined rapidly in the second half of the 20th century as antibiotics became more accessible, effective, and cheaper.
The bacterium that causes scarlet fever, group A streptococci, is highly susceptible to antibiotics and is easily treated with a course.
If you know you or your child are not up to date on vaccinations, call your GP to make an appointment.
“It’s never too late to get vaccinated,” said Prof. Helen.
“Make sure you check your child’s red vaccination card. However, if you cannot find it or your child does not have a vaccination record, call your GP to check.”
Vaccinations and when to have them
For the best protection, it is important that vaccinations are given on time. However, if you or your child have missed a vaccination, contact your GP to catch up
Vaccines for babies under 1 year old
8 weeks old
6-in-1 vaccine (2nd dose)
Rotavirus vaccine (2nd dose)
6-in-1 vaccine (3rd dose)
MenB vaccine (2nd dose)
Vaccinations for children aged 1 to 15 years
Hib/MenC vaccine (1st dose)
MMR vaccine (1st dose)
Pneumococcal vaccine (2nd dose)
MenB vaccine (3rd dose)
2 – 15 years
Child flu vaccination (every year until children finish 11th grade of secondary school)
3 years and 4 months
MMR vaccine (2nd dose)
4-in-1 booster shot for preschoolers
12 – 13 years
3-in-1 booster vaccine for teenagers