QUEBEC CITY - Quebec's director of public health is urging people to get vaccinated following an outbreak of more than 250 cases measles in the province since the beginning of the year.

Alain Poirier said Monday that vaccinations are the safest and best way to combat the highly contagious virus.

There have been 208 cases of measles reported in Quebec since May 1 and a total of 254 since the beginning of the year.

The outbreaks have occurred in several regions of the province.

Cases in April indicated the outbreak of the virus was sparked by people who had returned from vacations in France but subsequent cases appear to be of local origin.

Measles can be contracted through contact with droplets from the nose, mouth and throat of an infected person who puts them into the air by coughing or sneezing.

"Other than the outbreak we have seen now, we usually see one or two cases of measles every year," Poirier said in a statement.

"Episodic cases of this contagious illness, however, justify continued vaccination efforts from the point of view of prevention and we invite people to use this method to protect themselves."

Symptoms include fever, cough, rash, runny nose and white spots on the inner lining of the mouth, the Public Health Agency of Canada says on its website.

People with the illness usually recover after about 10 days but there is also a risk of complications such as pneumonia and diarrhea.