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    Date: Fri 31 Aug 2007
    Source: The Evening Standard, This is London report [edited]
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    Parents have been urged to give their children the MMR [measles,
    mumps, rubella] vaccine as it was revealed Britain is in the middle
    of the worst measles outbreak for 20 years.
    The unprecedented
    warning from the Health Protection Agency [HPA] came as the number of
    children suffering from the disease trebled over the last 11
    weeks. Experts fear even more will be infected as the autumn school
    term begins.

    This is the worst outbreak since the controversial MMR vaccine was
    introduced in 1988. Take-up of the triple jab -- which also protects
    against mumps and rubella -- plummeted to 80 per cent after Dr Andrew
    Wakefield claimed it was linked to autism and bowel
    problems. Leading scientists have since debunked Dr Wakefield's
    claims and rates of uptake are creeping back to recommended levels --
    except in London, where a quarter of children are still not vaccinated.

    Experts say the scare is directly responsible for the recent surge in
    measles cases. Up until [10 Jun 2007], 136 [cases] had been
    confirmed by the HPA. But as of [24 Aug 2007] -- just over 11 weeks
    later -- this had more than trebled to 480. The increase in
    infection rates has led the Health Protection Agency to issue a
    nationwide vaccination plea for the 1st time. Doctors have urged
    parents to make sure children receive the jab before returning to school.

    Dr Mary Ramsay, a consultant epidemiologist at the Agency, said:
    "Over the summer holidays we have seen more cases of measles being
    reported than we would normally expect. This means it is crucial that
    children are fully immunised with 2 doses of MMR before they return
    to school. "Measles is a highly infectious and dangerous illness and
    as there is increased close contact in schools, it can spread easily.
    Now is the time parents will be buying their children a new school
    uniform to prepare for the school year ahead, but being prepared to
    avoid infection is even more important. "Parents should think about
    adding the MMR vaccine to their back to school 'to do' list."

    The combined vaccine consists of 2 jabs -- one given at 13 months and
    a "booster" between the ages of 3 and 5 [years]. Both injections are
    necessary as up to 10 per cent of children are still not protected
    against measles after the 1st one.

    In 1998, Dr Wakefield published research in the Lancet linking the
    MMR jab to autism. His claims caused a furor, with some parents
    paying privately for their children to have single vaccines instead
    of the combined jab. Others decided not to have their children
    vaccinated at all. Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to say whether
    he had given his son Leo the combined jab.

    Since the scare, take-up of the jab has gradually recovered and now
    88 per cent of parents are having their children vaccinated. This is
    still well below the recommended level of 95 per cent. Another
    concern is that the take-up of the booster is much lower than that of
    the 1st jab, at only 74 per cent. The Health Protection Agency is
    worried that parents are simply forgetting about it.

    Dr Ramsay added: "Public confidence in MMR vaccine continues to
    remain high. However, it is also important to remember that children
    should complete their full course."

    The rise in the number of measles cases over the summer has been
    particularly pronounced in areas where vaccination rates are
    traditionally low, such as traveller sites. Last year a 13-year-old
    boy, from a travelling community in the North-West, became the 1st
    person to die of measles since 1992. But many of the cases are among
    unvaccinated schoolchildren. There have also been a number of small
    outbreaks among holidaymakers returning from abroad.

    Dr Mike Fitzpatrick, a GP in Hackney, east London, said 10 children
    with measles were hospitalised in his borough since May [2007]. "We
    are seeing the biggest outbreak for 20 years and there is no doubt it
    is [due] to the low uptake of MMR," he said. "The only surprise is
    that it hasn't happened earlier. The worry now is that with the
    return to school this will really take off." He added, "There have
    been a few outbreaks in Europe recently and what they show is that if
    you get up to 1000 or 2000 cases you're going to get one or 2 deaths.
    That must be the fear with this outbreak. It also raises the fear
    that we will return to outbreaks happening every year -- something
    that hasn't happened for 20 years."
    More here..