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Figures published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) today reveal 1,614 cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales in October 2012, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 7,728*.

The total number of cases so far in 2012 (up to end of October) is nearly ten times higher than for the same period in 2008, the last ‘peak’ year before this current outbreak, when 797 cases were reported. There have been three deaths in infants with laboratory confirmed whooping cough reported in October bringing the total number of deaths in this age group so far this year to 13.

At the end of September, the Department of Health announced that pregnant women would be offered whooping cough vaccination to protect their newborn babies, who do not usually start their vaccinations against whooping cough until they are two months of age. The aim of the vaccination programme is to help to boost the short term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said: “The October figures show a continuing rise in the overall number of whooping cough cases. While there has been a decline in the number of infant cases it’s important to emphasise that it’s too early to see any impact from the pregnancy vaccination programme. Working with the Department of Health we are continuing to carefully monitor whooping cough activity to evaluate the success of the programme.

“We strongly recommend all pregnant women take up the offer of vaccination. Parents should also ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough on time, even babies of women who’ve had the vaccine in pregnancy – this is to continue their baby’s protection through childhood. Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough – which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults. It is also advisable to keep babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages. Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications and death from whooping cough as babies do not complete 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.

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