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Lancashire 'at heightened risk of measles outbreak' parents warned

A child suffering from measles. The illness can lead to blindness and even death in rare cases
A child suffering from measles. The illness can lead to blindness and even death in rare cases

Lancashire is at heightened risk of a measles outbreak as vaccination levels fall, experts have warned.

Cases in the UK have also rocketed this year, as figures show parents are still not taking thousands of young children for their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines. It means the area is falling below the vaccination level the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says is required to prevent outbreaks of measles.

The most recent figures show that, in the 2016-17 financial year, 85% of children in Lancashire turning five had received the recommended two MMR jabs. It means that an estimated 2,100 five-year-olds in the area had not been vaccinated.

The ECDC warns that areas in which fewer than 95% of the population are vaccinated are at a heightened risk of a measles outbreak.

And Lancashire falls below the North west average, where 90% of children had received both MMR jabs by the age of five in 2016-17.

In the UK, 757 cases of measles have been reported so far this year – nearly triple the 274 cases reported in the whole of 2017.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also advised teenagers who missed their jabs in the late 1990s to ensure they are up to date before travelling. Many missed the course of vaccination following discredited scare stories over links between the vaccine and developing autism.

While local figures are not available, NHS numbers show that by 2005-06, over a quarter of five-year-olds in England were not receiving both MMR jabs.

Following significant outbreaks in France, Italy, Greece and Romania, the RCN’s Helen Donovan said the threat posed by measles should not be underestimated.

She said: “Measles is extremely infectious, especially where large crowds of people gather, such as at festivals or in towns.

"Thanks to vaccination it has become increasingly rare in the UK, but recent increases in infection rates show we can’t be complacent."

Ms Donovan also urged people to ensure their vaccinations are up to date, by contacting their GP.

She added: “The MMR vaccine is free. Getting immunised is quick and simple – an appointment with your practice nurse will only take a few minutes.”

In the UK, babies are usually given the first MMR jab within a month of their first birthday, as part of their routine vaccination schedule. The second is usually given after they turn three.

Children up to the age of 18 who missed their jabs are still eligible to receive them free on the NHS, as are certain vulnerable adults, including pregnant women.