Three more children under the age of 5 have developed cases of measles in Minneapolis, state health officials reported Thursday, including two Somali children who were not vaccinated because of fears about vaccine safety.

In all, four cases of measles have been reported in Minneapolis in the past two weeks, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Three of the children were hospitalized, and all are said to be recovering.

The latest cases involve children between the ages of 23 months and 4 years, who fell ill between March 1 and March 9, the health department said.

Officials said the vaccination rate has dropped in Minnesota's Somali community, largely because of misconceptions about the vaccine's safety. Concerns about a possible link between the vaccine and autism have spread in other communities as well, in spite of medical reports debunking the connection.

"Contrary to misinformation that may still be circulating, the measles vaccine is safe and effective," said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. "Without it, the risk of disease is real. Children can die from measles."

In announcing the new cases, the health department included a statement from Dr. Abdirahman D. Mohamed, chief of staff of the Axis Medical Center in Minneapolis, who said he's aware of four unvaccinated Somali children who have died of measles in the United States and other countries. "It is every parent's responsibility to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps and rubella to protect them against these deadly diseases," he said.

This year's first case of measles was reported March 4 in an infant who was too young to be vaccinated. Officials said they did not know whether the fourth child had been vaccinated.

The symptoms of measles include fever, runny nose, cough, loss of appetite, watery eyes and a rash that begins at the hairline and moves down the face, neck and body, officials say. The rash usually appears two to three days after the fever begins.

"Measles can be a severe infection and is very contagious if a person without immunity is exposed to an infected person," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state epidemiologist. "We strongly urge parents and health care providers to ensure that children have received appropriate vaccinations."

Two public clinics will be held in Minneapolis this month to offer the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine:

•Monday: 3-6 p.m. at the Hennepin County's Heath Services Building, 525 Portland Av.

•March 27, 1-4 p.m. at Children's Hospital, third floor clinic, 2530 Chicago Av. S.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384