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Concerns over whooping cough

As reports of infection rise, experts say parents must get children vaccinated

Mark Gould

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Health Protection Agency says it is concerned about the rising rate of whooping cough across England and Wales with clusters appearing in schools, universities and healthcare settings.

It says some 665 laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough have been reported between January and March 2012, compared to a total of 1,040 cases across the whole of 2011. The agency has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms and is telling parents to ensure their child gets the MMR vaccine.

The increase - continuing from the second half of 2011 - has been reported across all regions in England.

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 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, 251 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.”

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