CASES of whooping cough have exploded in the last year prompting the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to launch a campaign to encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated.
In the north east, the number of cases have gone from just 48 in 2008, to 365 so far this year.
At the end of September, the Department of Health announced that pregnant women would be offered whooping cough vaccination to protect their newborn babies, who do not usually start their vaccinations against whooping cough until they are two months of age.
The aim of the vaccination programme is to help to boost the short term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.
It is too soon for this vaccination campaign to have had an impact on the case numbers we are seeing, however, the Department of Health recently reported an uptake of around 40 per cent in pregnant women.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said: “The November figures show a welcome decrease of whooping cough cases since 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.
“The recent announcement that at least 40 per cent of pregnant women received the whooping cough vaccine in the first month of the programme is very encouraging.
“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.
“Vaccination between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy should offer babies the best protection against whooping cough before they receive their own vaccines.’’
Dr Amirthalingam said: “As well as this, parents should 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.”
Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications and death from the highly-infectious 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 Amirthalingam added: “Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough – which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults.”