Children at private schools face the greatest risk from the measles outbreak and could pose a health threat to the rest of the population, a leading doctor has warned.
Professor John Ashton said Britain's 600,000 privately-educated children were at much greater risk of infection than those in the state sector.
Prof Ashton said a mix of large numbers of middle-class children who were not vaccinated against measles following the Wakefield scare in the 1990s, along with pupils from overseas with unknown health records, meant schools could become "reservoirs of disease", the Daily Telegraph said.
He said the risk was similar to that from groups such as gypsies and travellers, who have previously spread the disease.
Prof Ashton, who will soon become president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: "You've got a lot of middle-class, well-off parents, large numbers of whom did not have their children immunised because of the Wakefield scare - which was a very middle-class phenomenon.
"Layered on top of that you have got a lot of children from abroad, especially from the Far East, from countries such as Hong Kong and China, and there are few checks being done to establish their immunisation records."
Health officials in England have launched a campaign to immunise a million children, aged between 10 and 16, with the MMR vaccine following an outbreak in Wales. They warned further measles outbreaks could occur 'anywhere'.
Special clinics are being set up in schools and GP surgeries at a cost of £20 million. There's already been a worrying rise in cases in the north-east and north-west.
Medical Editor Lawrence McGinty reports:
Secondary school children have rolled up their sleeves to receive the MMR jab in Teesside, one of the areas worst affected by the measles outbreak.
Around 70 children, more than 10 percent of the pupils at All Saints School in Ingleby Barwick, received the jab in the dinner hall after their parents consented.
Professor Peter Kelly, chairman of the Tees Outbreak Control Team, said there were 186 confirmed cases on Teesside since the new year, with a similar number suspected.
"It's quite a serious problem on Teesside," he said. "We have been aware of it since it started in mid-January and we have been working with our GP colleagues."We wrote to parents six or seven weeks ago to advise them to take their children, if they weren't vaccinated, to the GPs.
"We felt the extra step of coming to schools would give us that really comprehensive coverage of children we need to catch."There is a myth that it is just a childhood illness. People can be very poorly with measles and there can be some very serious complications."
2013 is expected to be the worst year for measles in the UK for the past two decades. Read more about the illness and how it is treated.Read the full story ›
A school based measles vaccination programme has started in schools across Teesside, after the number of cases increased again.
There have been 150 confirmed cases of measles in the North East since the recent outbreak.
Almost all the reported cases are on Teesside, with just three in County Durham and none in Newcastle or Gateshead.
The NHS is advising people to contact their GP about vaccinating their children, or to take advantage of the schools programmes.
One million children will be targeted in a measles vaccination drive across England as an outbreak in Wales continues to grow.
ITV News Science and Medical Editor Lawrence McGinty reports:
15 cases of measles have been recorded in the East Midlands in the first three months of this year.Read the full story ›
13 cases of measles have been recorded in the West Midlands in the first three months of this year.Read the full story ›
Public Health Wales is urging young people to get the MMR vaccination before the start of their exams.
The increase of cases shows that the outbreak is not easing up, especially in the 10 to 18 year old age group.
Young people have important examinations coming up and we need to make sure that those aged between 10 and 18 are vaccinated so their preparation for these examinations are not affected.
Vaccination sessions are continuing in schools throughout Wales and I urge pupils and their parents to take advantage of these.
We have seen that measles can be potentially fatal and no one should be complacent about the severity of measles. It can kill but can be prevented by a simple, safe vaccine.
56 new cases have been reported in the measles outbreak since Tuesday, bringing the total number to 942.
Public Health Wales says 83 people have now been hospitalised since the outbreak started.