Measles: Over 500 cases in Swansea epidemic

Public Health Wales has renewed its appeal for children to be vaccinated

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The number of people diagnosed with measles in an area at the centre of an epidemic has passed the 500 mark, Public Health Wales (PHW) says.

Latest figures show there are now 541 cases in and around Swansea.

The figures have gone up by more than 100 in a week and health experts are urging parents to ensure their children receive the MMR vaccine.

The epidemic has also prompted some babies to be offered the jab seven months earlier than recommended.

PHW said that cases continue to be reported across Wales, with the majority in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, Powys and Hywel Dda health board areas.

It warned that the risk of unvaccinated children coming into contact with those already infected is "increasing every day".

MEASLES OUTBREAKS

The measles outbreak centred on Swansea is certainly significant.

Experts in Wales fear it could reach the level of the Dublin outbreak of 1999-2000, when over 1,200 children were affected and three died.

There have been other smaller outbreaks more recently in England, including one last year which was centred around Merseyside.

But in the whole of the north west in 2012 there were just 865 measles cases.

Most of the more than 500 people affected in Wales are school-age children who have not had the MMR jab.

Vaccine uptake in the affected areas is around 89%.

It added that it was "just a matter of time" before a child was left with serious and permanent complications, such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or even dies.

Parents have been urged to use the Easter holidays to get their children vaccinated.

PHW has also taken the more unusual step of allowing babies as young as six months old to have an MMR jab, if they live or travel to the epidemic 'hotspots' of Swansea or Neath Port Talbot.

In some cases it would mean children getting three doses of MMR instead of the usual two.

In addition to the early jab, they would still receive the recommended vaccine at around 13 months of age and have a booster jab at around three years four months.

A spokesman said having three doses of the vaccine was safe but only usually offered during an epidemic.

Meanwhile, drop in MMR vaccination clinics will be held at the following locations between 10:00 BST and 16:00 BST on Saturday: Morriston and Singleton Hospitals in Swansea; Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend; and Neath Port Talbot Hospital.

An Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board spokesperson said no appointments were necessary, and while they were targeting children and adolescents who have not had their scheduled MMR jabs, no-one will be turned away including adults.

'Effective and safe'

PHW had previously said it was disappointed in the number of children being vaccinated, with only 100 of the 3,800 susceptible children aged over two in the Swansea area having the jab last week.

But Dr Marion Lyons, director of health protection for PHW, said it appeared the uptake of the MMR was now improving.

"We are starting to see parents bringing unprotected children to get vaccinated, showing that they're taking the outbreak seriously and have confidence in the jab as the best way of protecting their children," she said.

"Unfortunately some parents are continuing to put their children at unnecessary risk of catching this potentially serious disease.

"They need to get their children vaccinated without delay.

"The MMR jab is recommended by the World Health Organization, UK Department of Health and Public Health Wales as the most effective and safe way to protect children against measles.

"The alarming numbers of cases of measles and continuing spread of the disease in Wales illustrates how vital it is for parents to get their children vaccinated."

Some GP surgeries have responded to the epidemic by offering extra clinics for the MMR vaccine.

Swansea GP Dr Dai Lloyd said his surgery had seen people queuing for the vaccine following the outbreak.

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