There were 9,741* confirmed cases of whooping cough reported in England and Wales in 2012, according to figures published today by the Health Protection Agency (HPA). The total figure for 2012 is almost 10 times higher than the number of cases reported in 2011 (1,119) and in 2008 (902) – the last peak year before this current outbreak.

The December figures show a decrease for the second month running in cases of whooping cough with 832 confirmed cases reported compared with 1,168 cases in November 2012. One further death in an infant with laboratory confirmed whooping cough was reported in December bringing the 2012 total number of deaths in babies under three months to 14.

The highest number of cases were reported in those aged 15 and over, with a total of 8,059 cases in 2012, compared to 740 cases in 2011 and 493 cases in 2008.

Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “The December figures show another welcome decrease in the overall number of whooping cough cases since the peak in October. However, it is very important to note that we usually see a reduction in cases of whooping cough at this time of year so this decrease is in line with normal seasonal patterns.

“It is very encouraging to see that 55 per cent of pregnant women delivering in December in England had accepted the offer of a vaccination against whooping cough. We would like to remind pregnant women how serious this infection can be in young babies and how it can in some cases cause death. Vaccinating women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy should offer babies protection against whooping cough in the first few months of life, before they receive their own vaccines.

“It is important that, parents still 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.”

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.

Dr Ramsay, added: “Parents should be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough – which include severe coughing fits that may be accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children; older children or adults will usually just have a prolonged cough.”

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