Whooping cough alert as cases rise

PARENTS have been urged to check up on their children’s vaccinations as whooping cough is on the increase.

Figures for 2011 showed there were 69 cases of whooping cough in the region compared to 40 in 2010, and nationally the number of cases has more than doubled from 421 in 2010 to 1,040 last year. Increases in levels of the illness are commonly seen every three or four years and the figures for 2011 are in line with last peak year of 2008.

However, the illness can be serious in the very young, particularly babies, and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the North East has advised parents to make sure their children are protected through immunisation.

Vaccinations are offered to children at two, three and four months old as part of the routine programme and youngsters should receive a booster at about three years old, before they start school.

The vaccine for whooping cough also protects against diphtheria, polio, haemophilus influenzae type B and tetanus.

HPA Immunisation Lead in the North East Julia Waller said: “Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects people of all ages.

“In older people the infection can be an unpleasant illness, but does not usually lead to serious complications. However, the illness can be very serious in the very young, particularly babies who are too young to have received the first scheduled dose of whooping cough vaccine, which is offered at two months of age.

“The main symptoms are severe coughing fits, which in some cases are accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound as the child gasps for breath after coughing.

“Over the last few months the HPA has seen an increase in cases in teenagers and adults between the ages of 15 to 40 so we’re advising anyone who has symptoms of whooping cough to contact their GP and avoid contact with young babies.”

She added: “The infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics, which also prevents the infection spreading further, but young infants may need hospital care due to the risk of severe complications.

“That’s why we’re urging parents to make sure their children are fully protected against whooping cough.

“The vaccination is essential in preventing the illness in children who have reached the age that it can be given safely.”

The HPA has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms of the infection and encourage them to report cases quickly.