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Rise in measles cases 'unprecedented'

The UK is experiencing an 'unprecented' increase in measles, with the number of cases in the first 11 months of last year already 25 per cent up on the previous year.

Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show there were 1,217 cases of measles recorded in the 11 months to November 2008. The total for the whole of 2007 was 990.

Full-year figures for London show a further 60 cases were recorded in the capital in December, bringing its total for the year to 712, up from 424 in 2007.

There are also increasing signs that incidence of the disease is spreading to areas outside the traditional hot spot of London.

Three cases in four of the 115 recorded in November were outside the capital. Some 65 per cent of the total number of cases reported in 2008 were in children aged less than 15 years of age.

Dr Mary Ramsay, an immunisation expert at the Health Protection Agency, said, 'We are still experiencing an unprecedented increase in measles cases across the England and Wales. This continued rise is due to relatively low MMR vaccine uptake over the past decade and there are now a large number of children who are not fully protected with MMR. This means that measles, which is highly infectious, is spreading easily among these unvaccinated children.'

The Department of Health warned last month that the likelihood of measles epidemic was 'very high indeed'.

A study of 32 European nations by the World Health Organisation released earlier this week found the UK had one of the worst levels of uptake of the MMR vaccine in Europe.

The WHO estimates that MMR coverage needs to be at a minimum of 95% with two doses of vaccine in order to achieve the organisation's goal of effectively wiping out the disease in Europe by 2010.

However as a result of the poor uptake of the MMR vaccine in the UK, as a result of lingering fears over the safety of the vaccine, coverage was less than 85% in children at two years of age between 2002 and 2005.

Some 65 per cent of cases of measles reported last year were in under 15s Some 65 per cent of cases of measles reported last year were in under 15s

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