LONDON - The number of cases of measles in Britain is increasing, health authorities said Thursday, as they urged parents to have their children vaccinated against the disease.
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According to the Health Protection Agency, there have been 480 confirmed cases of measles in the United Kingdom so far this year.
That compares with a provisional total of 756 cases last year, the highest number recorded since current monitoring began in 1995. "The number of cases is increasing at a higher rate than usual for this time of year," the Health Protection Agency said.
The increase over recent years sets Britain apart from other developed countries, and there have even been cases where the disease has spread from Britain to other countries.
Last year, three cases in the United States were linked to Britain — more than most other countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination rates using the measles, mumps and rubella shot dropped sharply after claims made in 1998 that the vaccine was linked to autism — claims that all credible medical evidence has refuted.
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases, and unless approximately 95 percent of a population is vaccinated, outbreaks are likely. The disease can easily spread across borders. In recent years, Britain's vaccination rate has hovered around 85 percent.
"Over the summer holidays, we have seen more cases of measles being reported than we would normally expect," said Dr. Mary Ramsay, a consultant epidemiologist with the Health Protection Agency.
"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," Ramsay said. Parents should think about adding the MMR vaccine to their back to school to-do list."