Measles cases in Britain up for third year

Fri Feb 6, 2009 11:21am EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Measles cases in England and Wales rose by more than 70 percent in 2008 from the previous year, mostly because of unvaccinated children, government health officials said on Friday.

The third straight annual rise underscores the lingering impact of a since-discredited 1998 study linking the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot to autism -- a claim that made many parents refuse to get their children vaccinated.

The number of reported measles cases in England and Wales rose to 1,348 in 2008, from 990 a year earlier, the Health Protection Agency said.

The number of children who have received their first dose of the vaccine by their second birthday has risen to about 80 percent.

But that is still well below the 95 percent vaccination coverage needed to confer so-called herd immunity to people in the general population who do not receive the vaccines.

"There are still many children out there who were not vaccinated as toddlers over the past decade and remain unprotected," Mary Ramsay, an immunization expert at the agency, said in a statement.

"Unfortunately this means that measles, which is highly infectious, is spreading easily among these unvaccinated children."

David Salisbury, head of immunization at the Department of Health, said that despite the rise, the number of cases was still relatively low against the epidemics experienced before the measles and MMR vaccines were introduced.

Before the MMR vaccine there were about 80,000 cases of measles, he told BBC radio.   Continued...