measles injectionThe number of measles cases recorded by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in 2012 was the highest for nearly two decades.

In England and Wales 2,016 cases were recorded, largely attributable to prolonged outbreaks in Merseyside, Surrey and Sussex, as well as smaller outbreaks in travelling communities across England and Wales.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “Coverage of MMR is now at historically high levels but measles is highly infectious and can spread easily among communities that are poorly vaccinated, and can affect anyone who is susceptible, including toddlers in whom vaccination has been delayed. Older children who were not vaccinated at the routine age, who may now be teenagers, are at particular risk of becoming exposed, while at school for example.

“Measles continues to circulate in several European countries that are popular with holidaymakers. Measles is a highly infectious disease so the only way to prevent outbreaks is to make sure the UK has good uptake of the MMR vaccine, and that when cases are reported, immediate public health action is taken to target unvaccinated individuals in the vicinity as soon as possible.”

Measles outbreaks in Spain, France, Italy and Romania accounted for 87% of the total cases reported in Europe last year. In all, 7,392 cases were reported by countries in the European Union up to the end of November 2012.

Symptoms health professionals should look out for include:

• Cold-like symptoms
• Sensitivity to light
• Red eyes
• Fever
• Greyish-white spots in the mouth and throat
• A red-brown rash which appears after a few days. The rash usually starts behind the ears before spreading around the neck and face and then to the legs and body.

Dr Ramsay urged all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated. “Parents should ensure their children are fully protected against measles, mumps and rubella with two doses of the MMR vaccine. Parents of unvaccinated children, as well as older teenagers and adults who may have missed MMR vaccination, should make an appointment with their GP to get vaccinated.

“If you are unsure if you or your child has had two doses of the vaccine, speak to their GP who will have a record.”

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