Swansea measles: Figures increase to 765

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Media captionPeter Jackson lost his sight as a baby after getting measles

The number of cases in the Swansea measles epidemic has now reached 765, amid warnings it will continue to rise for weeks.

Health officials said there had been an increase of 72 since last Thursday.

Some 77 people have been hospitalised since the start of the outbreak in November last year.

Meanwhile, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged parents in England to have their children vaccinated with MMR.

Mr Hunt said: "Today I am urging all parents, anywhere in England, who did not get their child vaccinated with two doses of MMR because of scare stories a decade ago to contact their GP surgery and make an appointment."

Earlier, Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford said the only way to halt the outbreak was to ensure those who need the MMR vaccination got it.

He rejected accusations by Conservative opponents that the Welsh government had responded slowly to the epidemic.

In a letter to the assembly's children and young people committee, Mr Drakeford reveals that Public Health Wales convened its first outbreak control management meeting on 18 February.

There were 168 notified cases in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board area by the time the meeting was convened.

Mr Drakeford rejected complaints that the Welsh government was "behind the curve" in dealing with the measles outbreak in Swanesa.

He said health officials met on 28 November last year to discuss how to respond to the first reported cases.

Officials decided to focus on vaccination in schools, but this was not successful in stemming the rise in cases, Mr Drakeford told AMs.

"It was only in the post-Christmas period, as media reports increased, that greater awareness and parental action began to pick up," he said.

"I don't think there is any sense that either the Welsh NHS or the government have been behind the curve in responding to the outbreak."

Mr Drakeford and First Minister Carwyn Jones faced questions about the outbreak in the Senedd on Tuesday.

Mr Jones told assembly members that campaigns suggesting risks associated with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine by "elements" of the media were a factor in the current outbreak.

The Welsh government has a target to ensure 95% of children receive both doses of the MMR vaccine. Some 94.3% have received the first dose by the age of two, but only 89.9% have received the second dose by the age of five.

Mr Jones told AMs: "I believe that the publicity given over the past few weeks, although we would not have wished it to be this way, will help us reach those targets."

The epidemic has also become an issue outside Wales with the UK health secretary advising parents to get their children vaccinated.

"Disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield's discredited and inaccurate research caused great harm to the MMR vaccination programme and led to thousands of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps and rubella," said Mr Hunt.

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Media captionStacy Baker from Swansea didn't want his sons to experience measles, like he did as a boy

Mr Wakefield was struck off the medical register for his discredited research in 1998 which claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

The number of children being vaccinated fell following his study.

Meanwhile, Mr Drakeford said the Welsh government was aware the outbreak "is yet to reach its peak".

The minister, who has written to update AMs, MPs and health boards, added: "Indeed, we can fully expect cases to continue to occur for a number of weeks yet.

"The only way to halt the outbreak is to ensure as many people as possible have the MMR vaccine to protect themselves, their children, family members and others in the community who may not be protected for a variety of reasons."

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board will begin vaccination sessions in schools on Wednesday.

Catch-up clinics

Other health boards will also offer school catch-up clinics targeting schools with low vaccine uptake.

Last weekend, around 1,750 people received the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccination at special clinics held in four hospitals.

Mr Drakeford said: "It is encouraging that parents are continuing to bring their children forward but the numbers need to be higher to bring the outbreak under control."

But the minister said it was estimated around 5,000 children remain at risk from measles in the Swansea area.

Details showing the extent of the Swansea measles epidemic and other cases across Wales have been published online by Public Health Wales (PHW).

The page includes up to date figures and details of how the epidemic has grown weekly since 1 November, 2012.

It also lists the total number of measles notifications for every health board across Wales.

Tory health spokesman Darren Millar said: "It is extremely disappointing that no oral statement has been scheduled and it's about time ministers broke their silence.

"We need to know what conversations ministers are having with health boards, when they first became aware of the epidemic, and what long-term plans are being put in place to deal with uptake of the MMR jab in those parts of Wales where it remains low."

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