Urgent warning over Victorian diseases poised to surge now kids are back at school


A HANDFUL of deadly Victorian diseases could make a comeback this year as kids head back to the classroom where bugs can spread easily, an expert fears.

It comes as jab uptake for several different bugs are at record lows, official figures reveal.


A handful of deadly Victorian diseases could make a comeback this year as kids head back to the classroom

School-aged children and their families are at risk of catching deadly diseases like measles due to reduced vaccination rates.

“Unless more kids get vaccinated before they go back outbreaks are very likely to happen,” Prof Helen Bedford, an expert in child public health at University College London, told The Sun.

As part of The Sun’s Back To School series this week we’re here to help you and your child ease into the new school year in the best possible shape, physically and mentally.

From tackling nits to making nutritious packed lunches, clocking mental health issues early and knowing your way round childhood vaccinations, we have you and your family covered.

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Measles, mumps and rubella

Around one in ten children heading back to school this September will not have had both doses of the lifesaving MMR jab, which protects children from measles, mumps and rubella.

In the UK, kids can have vaccinations against the serious infections at age one and again at three years and four months.

Measles is a dangerous bug that can lead to severe problems if it spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain, including pneumonia, meningitis blindness and seizures.

Around 20-40 per cent of children who catch it end up being hospitalised, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

“Even an uncomplicated episode of measles is quite nasty, makes children feel ill you get a very high fever, get a rash”, Prof Helen said.

Mum’s-to-be who catch the bug are at risk of miscarriage.

Rubella, although relatively harmless to children, can also be serious in pregnant women – which can be passed on from child who aren’t jabbed.

“If a women catches rubella during early pregnancy, the child can be born with severe birth defects with devastating long term health issues like brain damage and heart defects,” Prof Helen said.

Symptoms of rubella include a spotty rash that feels rough, with swollen glands in your neck, aching fingers, wrists, or knees and a high temperature.

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that causes severe severe swelling of the neck and face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive “hamster face”.

In children, it usually passes without any serious complications.

But in some cases – especially in adults and babies – it can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain.

Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.

It can be very serious if not treated quickly.

“We need to also think about the serious risk to teachers and younger siblings of these kids not getting vaccinated,” Prof Helen added.

The expert is also concerned about children going into sixth form or collage, who may have missed out on their MMR jab.

“These diseases tend to get a lot nastier the older you get.

“So 17-year-old would get a lot more sick than a five year old.”

To maintain herd immunity, the World Health Organisation set a target of 95 per cent vaccination uptake.

But the UK is far below this target, with uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in children aged two years in England at 85.6 per cent, the lowest level in a decade

If you or your child have not had both doses of MMR, you can still ask your GP for the vaccine, the NHS says.

Since 1988 when the lifesaving jab was first introduced, these conditions have become rare in the UK. 

However, outbreaks of disease, especially measles, continue to occurr when the number of people having the vaccine has dropped.

Whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and Polio

Vaccination rates for the three-in-one vaccine, which protects children from fatal whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and Polio have also plummeted.

The lifesaving jab six-in-one, which offers protected against the bugs is given to children at four weeks old and again four more times up until in the age of 15, in the form of boosters to maintain immunity.

But data from UKHSA suggests uptake of the booster offered to 13- and 14-year-olds who were in school year nine during the 2021-22 academic year fell, leaving many young children unprotected from life-threatening diseases.

Prof Helen said: “During Covid, when we were all locked up, these diseases went down in numbers.

“Now that we have a susceptible population as more children that usual haven’t been immunised, we might start seeing a rise in cases.”

She said she was particularly concerned about whooping cough, a bacterial infection which affects the lungs.

“School-aged children don’t usually get that ill from it, they might just be left with a nasty cough.

“But these children might have siblings who are still babies, and babies are at risk of serious death if they catch this.”

The nasty bug can stop a baby breathing or lead to pneumonia, brain damage or weight loss.

Symptoms are similar to a cold, such as a cough, runny nose and sore throat.

Some people with the bug may make a “whoop” sound – a gasp for breath between coughs.

Cases of diphtheria have soared in the UK over the last two year.

The highly contagious bacterial infection can cause difficulty breathing, heart problems and even death.

But most cases have been found among migrants staying in processing centres.

The risk to the wider public, including school children, is currently considered to be low.

As part of the NHS vaccination schedule, kids can have vaccinations against the infection at eight, 12 and 16 weeks of age, as well as a pre-school booster.

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever infections reached their highest levels in nearly 70 years last year, data suggests, causing many deaths in school-aged children.

Cases this year so far remain low.

It’s caused by the Strep A bug, which can lead lead to tonsillitis and the skin infection impetigo.

While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, the bacteria can cause life-threatening illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS).

A total of 426 people – including 48 children died with iGAS in England last winter.

For comparison, in the 2017 to 2018 season, there were 354 deaths in total, including 27 deaths in children under 18.

Experts feared a lack of socialising among children during the Covid pandemic may have caused a drop in population immunity.

Symptoms of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen neck glands.

It also brings on red raised rash on the chest and tummy, which spreads to other parts of the body.

The NHS recommends people see their GP if a sore throat does not improve after a week, if they are worried or if they have a high temperature, or feel hot and shivery.

So far this year, cases appear to be “stable,” UKHSA said in its most recent update.

Some 2016 cases of scarlet fever have been reported between July 9 and August 27 this summer, this is compared to 3661 cases during the same time period in 2022.

Scarlet fever cases dropped rapidly in the second half of the 20th century as antibiotics became more accessible, effective and cheaper.

The bacteria which causes scarlet fever, Group A Strep, is highly susceptible to antibiotics and is easily treated with a course.


If you know you or your child isn’t up to date with their jabs, call your GP for an appointment.

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“It’s never too late to get vaccinated,” Prof Helen said.

“Make sure you check your child’s red vaccination book, but if you can’t find it, or they don’t have a record, call your GP up to check.”

Vaccinations and when to have them

IT’S important that jabs are given on time for the best protection, but if you or your child missed a vaccine, contact your GP to catch up

Vaccines for babies under 1 year old

8 weeks old

6-in-1 vaccine

Rotavirus vaccine

MenB vaccine

12 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine (2nd dose)

Pneumococcal vaccine

Rotavirus vaccine (2nd dose)

16 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine (3rd dose)

MenB vaccine (2nd dose)

Vaccines for children aged 1 to 15

1 year

Hib/MenC vaccine (1st dose)

MMR vaccine (1st dose)

Pneumococcal vaccine (2nd dose)

MenB vaccine (3rd dose)

2 – 15 years

Children’s flu vaccine (every year until children finish Year 11 of secondary school)

3 years and 4 months

MMR vaccine (2nd dose)

4-in-1 pre-school booster vaccine

12 – 13 years

HPV vaccine

14 years

3-in-1 teenage booster vaccine

MenACWY vaccine


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