AN OUTBREAK of measles “could easily be seen locally” a Gwent public health expert has warned, because the vaccination rate is not high enough.

With more than 250 cases reported in an outbreak in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, Public Health Wales and health boards are urging parents to make sure children are protected with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

The target vaccination rate is 95 per cent or more, to minimise the chances of the disease spreading.

In much of Wales, including Gwent, that has not been achieved or maintained for long enough.

In the Aneurin Bevan Health Board area, first dose MMR uptake (at two years old) is at 94.3 per cent, the second highest of Wales’ seven health board areas.

But though the uptake rate for a second dose at five years old is also the second highest in Wales, at 89.9 per cent it is well below the target.

First and second dose MMR rates at 16 years old, for those who have missed out at younger ages, are generally low across Wales.

In Gwent they are 88.9 per cent (for a first dose at 16) and 78.2 (for a second dose at 16), each the second lowest among health boards in Wales.

“Uptake of the MMR vaccine in the area continues to fall short of the 95 per cent target and an outbreak of measles could easily be seen locally,” said Dr Gill Richardson, director of public health for Aneurin Bevan Health Board.

Measles is highly infectious, with Public Health Wales warning that if exposed to a case, unvaccinated children are very likely to contract the disease.

“We cannot emphasise enough that measles is an illness that can kill, or leave patients with permanent complications including severe brain damage. The only protection is two doses of the MMR vaccination,”

said Dr Marion Lyons, the organisation’s director of health protection.

“As children have been admitted to hospital because of this outbreak of measles (in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot), we fear it is only a matter of time before someone dies or is left permanently affected by measles.”

Parents whose children have not had two doses of MMR should contact their GP for advice and an appointment.

Further information at www.publichealthwales.