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Health News

Measles cases hit a record, but worse may be to come

Almost a thousand people were infected with measles last year, the highest total since records began in 1995.

The Health Protection Agency warned that the worst may still be to come, with further outbreaks expected in the coming years.

Cases of the illness, which causes fever and can have serious complications, rose 30 per cent last year as the fallout from the MMR scare continued. MMR vaccination rates have fallen over the past decade from over 90 per cent to 79 per cent following publication of research suggesting a link between the jab and autism. Although the research was discredited, vaccination rates have yet to recover.

There were 971 cases of measles recorded in 2007, up from 740 in 2006. Four out of five cases were in children under 15. Three quarters of cases occurred in London and the South-east.

The HPA said most were associated with outbreaks in travelling and religious communities, which have traditionally had low rates of vaccination. But it added that there had been "numerous smaller outbreaks in nurseries and schools".

Mary Ramsay, an HPA consultant epidemiologist, said: "The rise in measles cases is of concern. Although MMR coverage is improving we know that large numbers of children are still not protected. Therefore we expect to see more outbreaks of measles in the future."

She added that it was impossible to predict where the outbreaks would occur. "The only way to reduce the impact of such outbreaks is to ensure the uptake of the MMR vaccine increases, and that older children who have missed out come forward for vaccination.

"People need two doses of MMR vaccine to be fully protected. Anyone who has not had that could be at risk of this serious infection."