Whooping cough warning despite fall

By on 02/05/2014 in News

whooping cough vaccinationPregnant women are being urged to take up the offer of a whooping cough vaccine, even though cases have fallen by half since an outbreak in 2012.

There were 4,623 laboratory confirmed cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in England in 2013, 51% fewer cases than in 2012 when 9,367 cases were reported, according to annual figures published today by Public Health England (PHE).

Case numbers in infants under 3 months have proportionally seen the greatest reduction, with 79% fewer cases in 2013 (85 cases) than in 2012 (407 cases). There were 3 deaths in infants with whooping cough confirmed in 2013, compared to 14 deaths in 2012.

In September 2012 the Department of Health announced a temporary vaccination programme for pregnant women in response to an ongoing whooping cough outbreak. Pregnant women have been offered the whooping cough vaccine between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy since 1 October 2012. Vaccinating against whooping cough in pregnancy enables the mother to transfer a high level of whooping cough antibodies (immunity) to her unborn child. This is to protect their baby against disease from birth until they receive their first dose of vaccine at 2 months of age.

Latest vaccine uptake figures in pregnant women show that around 60% have received their vaccination.

PHE's head of immunisation, Dr Mary Ramsay, said, “The continued reduction in cases of whooping cough in young infants is welcome news, but unfortunately we still confirmed the infection in three babies who died in 2013. The babies were too young to have been vaccinated themselves and none of their mothers had been vaccinated in pregnancy.

“The increase in vaccine uptake over the last 6 months is very encouraging but we need to ensure we vaccinate as many pregnant women as possible to avoid further tragic deaths. Although we have also seen a decline in cases in older children and adults between 2012 and 2013, the numbers still remain considerably higher than in 2011 suggesting that the infection is still circulating.

“While the infection remains at such high levels we are urging pregnant women to ensure they are vaccinated between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. We are also working with GPs, midwives and other health professionals to ensure they have the facts at hand to help women make the decision to vaccinate.”

Whooping cough affects all ages and is highly infectious. 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.

Dr Adrian Phillips, Director of Public Health for Birmingham added: “Vaccination is vital but also parents should be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough. The condition usually begins with a persistent dry and irritating cough that progresses to intense bouts of coughing. This is followed by a distinctive ‘whooping’ noise, which is how the condition gets its name.

“Parents must 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.”

Notes to editors

For the full health protection report go to: http://www.hpa.org.uk/hpr/

For a full regional, age and sex breakdown of confirmed whooping cough cases in 2013 go to: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/WhoopingCough/

Public Health England Press Office, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ

Tel: 0208 327 7901

Email: infections-pressoffice@phe.gov.uk

www.gov.uk/phe

Out of hours telephone 0208 200 4400

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