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Expert says 'greater risk 'of measles infection in private schools

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine became a subject of controversy back in 1998 when it was linked to the appearance of autism and bowel disease following a paper published by Dr. Andrew Jeremy Wakefield.

Even if Wakefield’s findings were discredited and subsequent studies failed to show any association between the vaccine and autism , many parents of children born between the late 1990s and early 2000s refused to have their children immunized, and experts believe that is the main reason behind the rising number of measles outbreaks over the last decade.

Health officials are urging parents to ensure their children have the MMR vaccine following the current outbreak, that has a reported 587 cases in England and more than 900 in Wales, and this is following an annual record high of nearly 2,000 cases in 2012.

People aged between 10 and 19 years continue to be the most affected, making up 41% of all cases of this highly infectious, potentially fatal disease.

Prof John Ashton, the future president of the Faculty of Public Health has warned that children who go to private schools are even more at risk of contracting the infection than their state school counterparts and they also pose a greater health threat to the rest of the population.

Ashton told the Daily Telegraph that private schools could become "reservoirs for the infection” as they are “law unto themselves,” because the schools do not have the proper policies to protect children, and they do not have complete medical records of their pupils and from those students from abroad, who may have incomplete or unknown immunization records.

"The danger is that you have a population that can potentially become a reservoir of infection. Normally when you are talking about subsections of the population that are at particular risk of disease outbreaks, such as measles, you are talking about groups like gypsies and travellers. But actually children in private schools, and in particular boarding schools, are one of the categories most at risk," said Ashton.

He has urged private and boarding schools to check the immunization records of their students advised them to "engage with" families who refused to vaccinate their children.

England has launched a £20m vaccination program to offer first time and top-up vaccinations in order to contain the outbreaks.

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