The rise in measles cases in England and Wales has prompted a primary care trust to write to parents urging them to have their children vaccinated.

Latest Health Protection Agency figures show that in September there had been 596 confirmed cases this year, up from 475 in August. There were 739 cases in the whole of 2006, so it is expected that the 2007 total will exceed this figure.

Last week 14 new cases were diagnosed in pre-school children in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. From June to the end of September, more than 227 children in London contracted measles, including 15 in Tower Hamlets.

As a result Tower Hamlets PCT is writing to the parents of more than 6,000 children who have missed their measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations.

The letter warns parents that measles can be serious and asks them to make an appointment for the jab at their GP surgery.

Measles cases recorded in July and August have mostly been associated with ongoing outbreaks in traveller communities.

There were 44 cases in the East of England, East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber; 78 cases in a religious community in London; three in the North West; three cases associated with holidays in Spain and one each with France, Greece and Pakistan.

Tower Hamlets PCT public health director Dr Ian Basnett said: 'Eighty-per cent of children have been immunised, but that leaves 20 per cent who are not protected.'

'Immunising children with MMR not only protects them, it also reduces the risk of spreading the infection to babies who are not old enough to have the MMR vaccination or children who cannot be immunised because they have serious health problems such as cancer,' said Dr Basnett.