A measles epidemic with children most at risk shows no sign of ending after a 25% jump in new cases reported over the Easter break.
An urgent appeal for parents to ensure their children have the vital MMR jab was renewed on Wednesday as the number of confirmed cases hit 541.
Concerned health experts said 109 new cases were reported in the last week and warned again the contagious virus is a potential killer.
The measles epidemic centred on Swansea, south Wales, has underlined the need for children to have vital protection.
But there is increasing concern that pleas for thousands of unvaccinated children to get the MMR jab are not being acted on.
Public Health Wales (PHW) warned before Easter that measles was spreading “at an alarming rate.” It is concerned that take-up of the vital vaccination is far too slow, putting lives at risk at the height of an epidemic.
Dr Marion Lyons, PHW director of health protection, has repeatedly warned that measles can leave unprotected children brain-damaged or dead.
She warned: “Measles cannot be taken lightly because you can never tell who will go on to develop the more serious complications of pneumonia or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). MMR vaccination offers the only protection against these complications.
“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.”
But she added: “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.
“A simple and safe jab from your GP will protect your child’s health, could save their life, and will help protect other children too. It is the only precaution you can take at this worrying time, and we have plenty of stocks of the jab, so I would urge parents to make arrangements with their GP now.
“The MMR jab is recommended by the World Health Organisation, 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.
“Parents of unvaccinated children aged between six and 12 months living in or travelling to the outbreak areas of Swansea and Neath-Port Talbot can be offered vaccination by their GP.
“There’s no adverse effect to this extra jab and those children would still need to receive the recommended two doses at 13 months and three years four months.
“Colleagues in Primary Care are doing a sterling job and the health boards have arranged extra clinics over the weekend to ensure as many children as possible are vaccinated. I’m hopeful that through our collective efforts and with responsible parents getting their children vaccinated we can minimise the risks to children from this dreadful disease.”
Cases of measles continue to be reported across Wales, with the majority in Swansea’s Abertawe Bro Morgannwg and neighbouring Powys and Hywel Dda Health Board areas.
PHW is warning that the likelihood of unvaccinated children coming into contact with those already infected is increasing every day.
It says that those not vaccinated are highly likely to catch the disease and it is just a matter of time before a child is left with serious and permanent complications such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or dies.
Public Health Wales is urging parents of children aged between one and 18 who have not been vaccinated to use the current school holidays to arrange vaccinations, via their GP.
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