PARENTS are being urged to check their children's health records and take immediate action if they have not had two doses of MMR vaccine, to help prevent a measles epidemic in Gwent.

The call comes from Aneurin Bevan Health Board's public health chief, ahead of two drop-in MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination clinics in Gwent today.

There have now been 108 cases of measles notified in Gwent - reported to Public Health Wales by GPs, based on clinical symptoms - since last November, when the ongoing Swansea outbreak began.

Not all notified cases are subject to laboratory testing. But since the beginning of March, 20 of the notified Gwent cases have been lab-confirmed, including seven among secondary school children.

As reported in the Argus earlier this week, the 10-18 years age range, largely a secondary school group, is considered the most at risk of measles, because they are most likely to have missed out on vaccination during several years from the late 1990s, following the since-discredited scare over a possible link between MMR and autism.

Dr Gill Richardson, the health board's director of public health, warned: "We have a short window of time to protect children and young people aged 10-18 from measles in Gwent.

"If we are to prevent an epidemic in this area we need every parent to check their child's records and take immediate action if they are not fully protected with two doses (of MMR).

"Immunisations are being offered at secondary schools, colleges, GP surgeries and special clinics, and staff are working hard to offer opportunities to all.

"But we need parents and young people to take these up to prevent an outbreak here. Please act early."

Drop-in clinics to be held today

Drop-in clinics will be held at the Royal Gwent Hospital's main outpatient department, and at Chepstow community hospital tomorrow, both 11am-3pm.

Immunisations are also being offered by school nurses at secondary schools. Details of which schools remain to be visited, and on what date, are available on the health board website, An explanatory letter and a consent form are available by clicking on the school's name.

THE most severe complications of measles are meningitis, pneumonia, hepatitis, encephalitis (swelling of the brain that can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage), permanent deafness and permanent blindness.

Before MMR was introduced, around 100 children died from measles each year in the UK, and around 1,200 were hospitalised with meningitis or encephalitis through measles and mumps.

Nowadays around one in 1,000 children will die from measles, and one in 500 will have a serious complication.