The victim, a boy aged 13, was part of a travelling community that had recently arrived in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, from southern England. He was already receiving drugs for a lung condition when he contracted measles and his condition affected his ability to combat the virus. He had not received the MMR vaccine and died of an infection of the central nervous system caused by a reaction to the measles virus.
Immunisation rates in Britain are among the lowest in western Europe after fears were raised of a link between MMR and autism in a paper published in The Lancet in 1998. A more recent study in the same journal concluded that there was no evidence of a link. But eight years on, only 81 per cent of children have the MMR jab before they are two. The World Health Organisation recommends 95 per cent coverage to prevent outbreaks.
One hundred people have caught measles in Britain in the first three months of this year, compared with 76 in the whole of 2005. The worst outbreak has been in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, where 32 children have confirmed cases and a further 36 are being investigated.
The first Doncaster infections developed among children at a playgroup who are less than a year old and therefore too young to have had the MMR jab. The disease has now spread to older children and to neighbouring areas.
The outbreaks in Doncaster andin the travelling communities have contributed to the rise in cases but the Health Protection Agency and Department of Health said the increase was not a result of the low take-up of the MMR vaccine.
The HPA said travelling communities were more likely to contract measles because they traditionally had less contact with local health services and were therefore less likely to be vaccinated.
The boy in Rochdale died last month, and 34 children who were in contact with him have been vaccinated. An HPA spokesman, Hugh Lamont, said: "The disease was contracted in the south and he had not attended school locally, so there is no reason for concern in the local community."
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