NEW university students should ensure they have been vaccinated against measles following outbreaks of the highly infectious illness, health officials have said.

Public Health England (PHE) urged new and returning students to check they are up to date with both the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against meningitis, and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab before the start of term.

The call comes after it emerged the number of European cases of measles has reached an eight-year high.

Some students starting university this year may have missed out on the MMR vaccine as children, with uptake as low as 80 per cent in 2003, PHE said.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said colleges and universities can be "hotspots" for the spread of measles and meningococcal disease.

She added: "First year students especially are at increased risk of meningococcal infection if they are unvaccinated - which makes sense when they spend large amounts of time with new people in confined environments such as university halls.

"We therefore encourage students to check with their GP that they are up to date with their MMR and MenACWY vaccinations before term starts - it's never too late to protect themselves and their friends from these highly infectious and serious diseases."

Caroline Brearley, head of health and safety at University of Cumbria, said: "We welcome and support work by Public Health England to highlight the advice that both new and current students make sure they’re up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and MenACWY vaccines.

"We advise all students to get vaccinated before they come to the University of Cumbria and to register with a local GP for immediate medical help. We also actively highlight the symptoms of infectious diseases through regular communication with staff as well as students.

"It is a prerequisite of some of our study programmes, for example nursing, that students have vaccinations up-to-date before they go on placement."

More than 41,000 measles cases were recorded across Europe during the first six months of 2018, including 37 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This number is already higher than any year since 2010.

England has also experienced outbreaks of measles, with 828 laboratory confirmed cases between January 1 and August 13, according to PHE.

The MMR vaccine is available to anyone who did not receive two doses as a child.

The MenACWY jab, introduced in 2015, protects against four meningococcal strains that cause meningitis and septicaemia, including the most aggressive, W.

It is routinely offered to those in years nine and 10 at school, but anyone who has missed out can be vaccinated free of charge until their 25th birthday.