U.K. records highest number of measles since 90s

The U.K. Health Protection Agency recently announced that in 2012, the number of measles cases in England and Wales reached its highest level in 18 years.

The HPA said that there were 2,016 confirmed cases of the once commonplace childhood illness, the highest annual total since 1994. The majority of the cases occurred in the counties Merseyside, Surrey and Sussex, where there were noted prolonged outbreaks, according to the Guardian.

In severe cases, measles can be fatal, but more common symptoms include red eyes and grayish spots in the nose and throat, in addition to cold-like symptoms and fever. After a few days, a red-brown, spotty rash can appear. The MMR vaccine, usually given in childhood, can protect against the virus.

"Coverage of MMR is now at historically high levels but measles is highly infectious and can spread easily among communities that are poorly vaccinated, and can affect anyone who is susceptible, including toddlers in whom vaccination has been delayed," Dr. Mary Ramsay, the HPA's head of immunization, said, the Guardian reports. "Older children who were not vaccinated at the routine age, who may now be teenagers, are at particular risk of becoming exposed, while at school for example.

"Measles continues to circulate in several European countries that are popular with holidaymakers. Measles is a highly infectious disease, so the only way to prevent outbreaks is to make sure the UK has good uptake of the MMR vaccine, and that when cases are reported, immediate public health action is taken to target unvaccinated individuals in the vicinity as soon as possible."