1,230 cases of whooping cough in England and Wales were reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in August 2012, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 4,791*, according to figures published today (Friday).

The total number of cases so far in 2012 (up to end of August) is now more than four times higher than the annual total number of cases reported in 2011 (1,118) and in 2008 (908) – the last ‘peak’ year before this current outbreak.

In August there were a further three pertussis-related deaths in infants aged three months and under, bringing the total number of deaths in this age group so far this year to nine. The Department of Health has today announced pregnant women will be offered the whooping cough vaccination to protect their newborn babies, who are not usually vaccinated until between two and four months. This will boost the short term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths. We welcome the urgent measure from the Department of Health to minimise the harm from whooping cough, particularly in young infants, and we encourage all pregnant women to ensure they receive the vaccination to give their baby the best protection against whooping cough.

“It’s also important we continue to remind all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough to continue their protection through childhood. Parents should also 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. 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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