Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

Region sees huge rise in measles

MMR vaccine
Parents are urged to ensure their children get the MMR jab

More cases of measles were confirmed in the North West of England than anywhere else in the country in the last three months of 2008, health officials say.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that confirmed cases increased from 31 in 2007 to 180 last year - a 480% jump.

Experts said most of the outbreaks had occurred in communities with large numbers of children who did not receive the MMR vaccine.

Across England and Wales measles cases rose by 36%, from 990 in 2007 to 1,348.

A mass vaccination of more than 10,000 children was carried out in Cheshire in December to head off a potential measles epidemic in the county.

Public confidence

Dr Rosemary McCann, of HPA North West, said: "We had a major outbreak in central and eastern Cheshire that accounted for many of the confirmed cases in the final quarter of 2008.

"But we also had a large outbreak on the Fylde coast earlier in the year and smaller outbreaks and sporadic cases elsewhere in the region."

Cheshire had the UK's highest rate of reported measles outside of London, which officials said was a legacy of the fears over the safety of the MMR - measles, mumps and rubella - vaccine which emerged in the 1990s.

Public confidence in the triple vaccine dipped following research - since discredited - which raised the possibility that the jab may be linked to an increased risk of autism.

Dr McCann added: "Confidence in MMR vaccine is continuing to grow and increasing numbers of parents are having their children immunised at the appropriate time.

"However, we still have large numbers of older children and teenagers who missed out on immunisation as toddlers and these young people are needlessly vulnerable to infection."

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