Vaccination crisis means people are at risk of measles-like diseases jumping from animals to humans

Falling rates of measles vaccinations could put people at risk from deadly animal viruses.

The vaccine crisis is thought to have contributed to 142,000 deaths from measles worldwide last year.

And an expert has warned that it may also make it easier for similar viruses in cattle and dogs to make the jump to humans.

It is not yet clear whether canine distemper – caused by a virus which has already mutated to affect monkeys – has the ability to actually infect humans.

Falling rates of measles vaccinations could put people at risk from deadly animal viruses. The vaccine crisis is thought to have contributed to 142,000 deaths from measles worldwide last year. (Above, illustration of the measles virus)

Falling rates of measles vaccinations could put people at risk from deadly animal viruses. The vaccine crisis is thought to have contributed to 142,000 deaths from measles worldwide last year. (Above, illustration of the measles virus)

Falling rates of measles vaccinations could put people at risk from deadly animal viruses. The vaccine crisis is thought to have contributed to 142,000 deaths from measles worldwide last year. (Above, illustration of the measles virus)

An expert has warned that the vaccination crisis may also make it easier for similar viruses in cattle and dogs to make the jump to humans

An expert has warned that the vaccination crisis may also make it easier for similar viruses in cattle and dogs to make the jump to humans

An expert has warned that the vaccination crisis may also make it easier for similar viruses in cattle and dogs to make the jump to humans

But Professor Jonathan Ball, an expert in emerging viruses from Nottingham University, said if it could, we may have been protected in the past because most people were vaccinated against the similar measles virus.

Now, humans are likely to be at greater risk from viruses such as canine distemper and PPRV, which usually infects sheep and goats.

That is because the viruses are genetically similar to measles, which our immune system needs to have been vaccinated against in order to recognise and fight them.

Professor Ball, who wrote about the issue for the BBC, said: ‘For animal viruses to infect humans, they need to have the right genetic changes to make the jump and people have to be susceptible.

‘That means they need people who are not vaccinated or have never been infected with measles before.

It is not yet clear whether canine distemper - caused by a virus which has already mutated to affect monkeys - has the ability to actually infect humans. (Above, a dog infected with canine distemper)

It is not yet clear whether canine distemper - caused by a virus which has already mutated to affect monkeys - has the ability to actually infect humans. (Above, a dog infected with canine distemper)

It is not yet clear whether canine distemper – caused by a virus which has already mutated to affect monkeys – has the ability to actually infect humans. (Above, a dog infected with canine distemper)

‘However, there are only a handful of animal viruses this applies to, and, while they can kill animals, we don’t know what they would do to us or how infectious they might be.’

The Daily Mail is running a major campaign called ‘Give Children Their Jabs’ amid falling uptake of all 10 routine childhood vaccinations.

Cases of measles in England tripled in a year from 259 to 971 between 2017 and 2018.

While there is probably no threat to the UK directly from animal viruses because they don’t tend to circulate here, measles belongs to a group of highly similar viruses called morbilliviruses, found in mammals, and potentially able to cross the ‘species barrier’ into humans.

Cases of measles in England tripled in a year from 259 to 971 between 2017 and 2018 (file image)

Cases of measles in England tripled in a year from 259 to 971 between 2017 and 2018 (file image)

Cases of measles in England tripled in a year from 259 to 971 between 2017 and 2018 (file image)

They latch on to the same receptor in human cells as they do in animal cells.

Such viruses could still infect people in the UK if they were brought over from other countries by people already infected, or Britons unknowingly picked it up while abroad. 

It is believed that measles originally came from a similar virus in cattle.

Canine distemper, which is already threatening endangered cats and has infected seals and monkeys, could need as few as two mutations in its surface proteins to allow it to infect human cells.

It suppresses the immune system and can lead to infections such as pneumonia.

A similar mutation could also occur in a virus called Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPRV), which has already spread from sheep and goats into cattle after they stopped being vaccinated for a similar virus.

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