Outbreaks of measles have risen sharply in recent months with far more cases already this year than for the whole of 2010.

From January to May this year there were 496 cases of measles in England and Wales confirmed by the Health Protection Agency (HPA); last year, there were 374. The rise was caused by the number of people who have missed out on the measles innoculation programme.

But the take-up of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination is at its highest level for 13 years. At least 90 per cent of two-year-olds across the whole of the UK have had their first MMR injection, rising to 92.8 per cent by the age of five. Medics have been battling to restore take-up rates since public confidence in the jab slumped after claims, now discredited, that the MMR vaccination was linked to autism.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of the immunisation department at the HPA, was "very encouraged" at the increase in MMR take-up which she said indicated "increasing levels of trust by parents in the immunisation programme". She added: "We're on the way to reaching our goal of 95 per cent uptake. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal."