665* laboratory confirmed cases of whooping cough have been reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in England and Wales between January and March 2012, compared to total of 1,040 cases across the whole of 2011.
The increase – continuing from the second half of 2011 - has been reported across all regions in England with some areas reporting clusters in schools, universities and healthcare settings.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages. However over the last few months the increase has extended to very young children who have the highest risk of severe complications and death.
Whooping cough in older people can be an unpleasant illness but does not usually lead to serious complications.
The main symptoms of whooping cough are severe coughing fits which, in babies and children, are accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound as the child gasps for breath after coughing.
The infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading further but young infants may need hospital care due to the risk of severe complications.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA said: “Whooping cough can be a very unpleasant infection. 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.
“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 is very good..Parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity. The pre-school booster is also important, not only to boost protection in that child but also to reduce the risk of them passing the infection on to vulnerable babies, as those under four months cannot be fully protected by the vaccine.
“The HPA has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms of this infection and stress the importance of vaccination. The agency is also encouraging GPs to report cases quickly and to make them aware of the HPA’s guidance to help reduce the spread of the infection.”
The HPA is also reminding parents to ensure their children are protected against measles due to a slight increase in cases since the beginning of the year. So far, 253 laboratory confirmed measles cases have been reported to the agency in 2012 compared to 200 cases reported for the same period last year. The majority of cases have been in unvaccinated individuals.
Dr Ramsay continued: “As we approach the time of year when many children are travelling on school trips and family holidays, we are again urging parents to protect their children against measles by ensuring they have been immunised with two doses of MMR. This is particularly important given the increase in cases in children and young adults over the last few months. The continued outbreak in the Merseyside area is a clear demonstration that measles can be a very serious illness.
"Measles is a highly infectious which spreads very easily particularly in schools and universities. It's never too late to get your child immunised with two doses of the MMR vaccine. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. Delaying immunisation puts children at risk."
HPA information on whooping cough (pertussis):http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/WhoopingCough/
HPA information on measles:http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/Measles/
Additional information can be found on the NHS Choices website:http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/HomePage.aspx [external link]
The HPA’s Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis can be found here: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1287142671506
- Frequently asked Questions on measles and travel can be found here:http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1296687918015
- HPA leaflet for those going to camp can be found here: