Measles cases 'double in a year' following two major outbreaks
There are ongoing serious outbreaks in Merseyside and SussexSmall number of cases in travelling communities
16:23 GMT, 24 August 2012
The number of cases of measles has almost doubled in the past year following two major outbreaks, health officials have revealed.
In England and Wales there were 497 cases in the first six months of 2011.
But this year that figured has soared to 964 over the equivalent period, the Health Protection Agency revealed.
A spokesman said the cases have been associated with ongoing outbreaks in Merseyside and Sussex, and a small number of cases have occurred in England's travelling communities.
Hives: The skin of a person suffering from measles
It is thought the rise is due to continued low vaccine uptake in some parts of the country.
In 1998 Dr Andrew Wakefield linked the jab to cases of autism and bowel disorders but the research was later discredited and he was struck off the medical register – but fearsstill linger.
The number of cases of rubella – also known as German measles – have also increased.
The HPA said 57 cases of the viral infection were reported between January and June – exceeding the annual totals for the previous nine years.
Most cases are linked to travel to other European countries.
It is usually a mild infection. But if a woman becomes infected in early pregnancy, it can cause birth defects.
Officials said parents should ensure that their children have received the MMR jab – the combined vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella – before going back to school.
Disappearing disease: Cases had dramatically fallen in the past half century
MMR VACCINE SCARE
In 1998 a paper in the medical journal The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield presented apparent evidence that autism spectrum disorders could be caused by the MMR vaccine – an immunisation against measles, mumps and rubella.
But an investigation by Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer revealed that Mr Wakefield had multiple undeclared conflicts of interest, had manipulated evidence, and had broken other ethical codes.
The published paper was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010, and Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 and was struck off.
The following year the research was declared fraudulent by the BMJ.
The scientific consensus is that no evidence links the vaccine to the development of autism and that the vaccine's benefits greatly outweigh its risks.
Latest data on immunisations across England shows uptake rates of 93 per
cent for the first MMR jab and 87 per cent for the second.
In Wales, the figures are 92 per cent and 87 per cent.
The first dose of the MMR vaccine should ideally be given to children between 12 to 13 months of age.
They are given the second dose before they start school, usually between
three and five years of age, although it can be given three months
after the first.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: 'It's extremely concerning that measles cases are continuing to rise.
'Measles can be very serious and parents should understand the risks associated with the infection, which in severe cases can result in death.
'It's vital that children receive both doses of the MMR vaccination and ahead of returning to school after the holidays, we are urging parents to ensure their children have received the two doses, which will provide the best protection against the risks associated with measles, mumps and rubella.
'If you are unsure if your child has had two doses of the vaccination, speak to your GP who will have a record of which vaccinations your child has received.'
Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said: 'Measles is an entirely preventable disease so it is very sad to see that the numbers of cases are going up.
'It's a thoroughly unpleasant illness and, from time to time, unpredictably, can turn very serious or even fatal.
'You can't get too many doses of vaccine, only too few – anything less than two – so if you are in doubt about yourself or your child, find out and, if necessary, get the MMR vaccine which will protect you against mumps and rubella as well. You can be immunised safely and effectively at any age.'