Measles cases have soared in Central Lancashire.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has revealed there were 865 laboratory confirmed cases of the highly infectious viral illness in the North West in 2012, compared to just 52 the year before.
In Central Lancashire alone, there were 35 cases last year, compared to only three in 2011.
Measles is a very unpleasant infection of the respiratory system, which can sometimes lead to serious complications, including blindness and even death.
It mainly affects children, but can occur at any age.
It was rare in the UK, due to immunisation, however, there were 2,016 confirmed cases in England and Wales reported to the HPA in 2012, which is the highest annual total since 1994.
This has been associated with prolonged outbreaks in Merseyside, Surrey and Sussex, as well as several smaller outbreaks in travelling communities.
The worst hit area in the North West was Merseyside, with 313 cases. This was followed by Knowsley with 95 and Sefton with 72, then Bolton with 69, Ashton, Leigh and Wigan with 37 and Central Lancashire with 35.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “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.
“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.
“The only way to prevent outbreaks is to make sure the UK has good uptake of the MMR vaccine, and when cases are reported, immediate public health action is taken to target unvaccinated individuals as soon as possible.”
Symptoms of measles include cold-like symptoms, red eyes and sensitivity to light, fever and greyish white spots in the mouth and throat.
After a few days a red-brown spotty rash will appear. It usually starts behind the ears, then spreads around the head and neck before spreading to the legs and the rest of the body.
Dr Ramsay said: “Measles is often associated with being a disease of the past and as a result people may be unaware that it is dangerous infection that can lead to death in severe cases.
“Parents should ensure their children are fully protected against measles, mumps and rubella with two doses of the MMR vaccine.
“Parents of unvaccinated children, as well as older teenagers and adults who may have missed MMR vaccination, should make an appointment with their GP to get vaccinated.
“If you are unsure if you or your child has had two doses of the vaccine, speak to their GP who will have a record.”