Quebec's director of public health is urging people to get vaccinated following an outbreak of more than 250 cases of 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.

Measles can usually be prevented with up-to-date vaccinations.

Two doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine are recommended for children — one around the time of the first birthday, and a second dose after age 15 months and before the child starts school.

As of last week, the federal agency said there aren't any measles outbreaks in other parts of Canada besides Quebec.

It says a total of 327 confirmed cases of measles were reported in Canada between 2002 and 2010.

The average was 11 cases annually except in 2007 when there were 102 cases, mainly due to an earlier outbreak in Quebec, in 2008 when 62 cases were registered, mainly in Ontario, and in 2010 when there were 99 cases, mostly in British Columbia.

The United States is currently experiencing more cases than usual. The Americas were declared "measles-free" in 2002 and Quebec usually sees only a couple of cases a year.

The province saw its last measles outbreak four years ago when close to a hundred people contracted the virus. The last major outbreak was in 1989 when 10,000 people contracted the virus in Quebec.

The Centers for Disease Control says from Jan. 1 to May 20, a total of 118 cases were reported from 23 states and New York City, the highest reported number from the same period since 1996.