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Confirmed cases of whooping cough in England and Wales reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) are continuing to rise, with a further 675 cases reported in June, bringing the total so far this year to 2,466*, more than double the total for 2011 when 1,118 cases were reported for the whole year.

The increase, which is continuing from the second half of 2011, has been reported across all regions in England with some areas reporting clusters in schools and healthcare settings.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a cyclical disease with increases occurring every three to four years. The last peak was in 2008 when 421 cases were reported to the HPA between 1 January and 30 June, compared with 2,466 cases for the first six months of 2012.

Whooping cough affects all ages, however, this ongoing increase has extended to very young babies who have the highest risk of severe complications and death. There were 186 cases reported in infants under three months so far this year compared to 84 cases in 2008. There have been five pertussis-related deaths in infants in 2012 compared to four in the same period in 2008.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA said: “The HPA is very concerned about the ongoing increase in cases and we are working closely with the Department of Health’s Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) to consider the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak. The JCVI is reviewing a number of options including the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and offering whooping cough vaccination to pregnant women.”

At the June meeting of the JCVI, the committee recommended whooping cough vaccination for healthcare workers working with young babies to protect them against the infection and importantly to stop any risk of them passing the infection on to their very young patients.

Dr Ramsay added: “We welcome the JCVI review of the current vaccination recommendations. In the meantime we are actively reviewing our cases to see what interventions could have the quickest impact on the spread.

“Whooping cough can spread easily to close contacts such as household members. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection and uptake of the vaccine in the UK is very good. In addition to this, parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity.

“Whooping cough can be a very serious illness, especially in the very young. In older people it can be unpleasant but does not usually lead to serious complications. Anyone showing 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 and adults, should visit their GP.”

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