Whooping cough cases treble in a year to 3,500 as teenagers and adults are hit by illness
Experts said parents should make sure their children were vaccinated at two, three and four months of age
15:02 GMT, 31 August 2012
The number of cases of whooping cough in England and Wales have already tripled this year and are hitting young babies who are most at risk of death, say health officials.
There were another 1,047 cases in July bringing the total to 3,523 for 2012 so far – three times higher than the 1,118 reported in 2011 and the 908 in 2008 – the last ‘peak’ year before this current outbreak.
Increased levels of whooping cough have also been reported in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Whooping cough: Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection
The main symptoms are severe coughing fits which are accompanied by a “whoop” sound as children gasp for breath.
Surges in the number of whooping-cough cases are seen every three to four years. This latest outbreak began at the end of 2011.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages but this ongoing outbreak is mainly in teenagers and young adults
But the Health Protection Agency said many cases involve very young babies, with 235 reported in infants under three months so far this year compared to 112 in 2008. There have also been six related deaths in infants up to the end of July compared to five in 2008.
Louise Brown, of the HPA, said: 'We are seeing lots of whooping cough in other countries, it is not specific to the UK.
'The main rise is in teenagers and adults, and although they may have been vaccnated the effect of that may have waned, making them vulnerable to milder forms of the illness.'
Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications as babies do not get the benefits from vaccination until they are around four months old.
In older children and adults whooping cough can be an unpleasant illness but it does not usually lead to serious complications.
Whooping cough is a highly infectious bacterial disease which spreads when a person with the infection coughs and sheds the bacteria which is then inhaled by another person.
THE '100-DAY' ILLNESS THAT CAN BE LETHAL
Whooping cough is rarely serious in adults and most will just assume they have a bad cough.
it can be dangerous in babies who may stop breathing in their sleep or
develop complications such as pneumonia or brain damage due to lack of
whooping cough bacterium
It starts with dry,
irritating coughing which progresses to intense bouts. Other symptoms
include a runny nose and raised temperature.
It can last for three months and is also commonly known as the 100-day cough.
Before a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, the illness caused more than 1,000 deaths a year.
under six months are most at risk from complications. Currently they
are vaccinated at two months, three months and again at four months old.
They are given a fourth dose just before they start school.
jab contains dead whooping cough bacteria that prompts the body’s
immune system to make antibodies which fight the infection.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, an expert in immunisation at the HPA, said: 'We are very concerned about the continuing increase in cases.
'Parents should ensure that their children are vaccinated on time so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity and be alert to the signs and symptoms – which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults.
'We also advise parents to keep their babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.'
The Department of Health’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are considering the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak and a number of options are under review.
These include the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and protecting new born babies by either vaccinating them and their families and/or women during pregnancy.
Added Dr Amirthalingam: 'GPs have also been reminded to report cases quickly and been made aware of the HPA’s guidance to help reduce the spread of infection – this improved awareness may be contributing to the increase in numbers of laboratory confirmed cases.'