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Home News centre National Press Releases 2012 Press Releases ›  Whooping cough cases continue to increase

Whooping cough cases continue to increase

31 August 2012

1,047 cases of whooping cough in England and Wales were reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in July 2012, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 3,523*, according to figures published today. 

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages. This ongoing outbreak is mainly in teenagers and young adults; however, we are seeing high numbers of cases in very young babies. 235 cases have been reported in infants under three months so far this year, compared to 112 cases in 2008. There have also been six pertussis-related deaths in infants up to the end of July compared to five in 2008.

Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications and death from whooping cough as babies do not get the benefits from 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.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious bacterial disease which spreads when a person with the infection coughs and sheds the bacteria which is then inhaled by another person.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, an expert in immunisation at the HPA, said: “We are very concerned about the continuing increase in cases. Parents should ensure that their children are vaccinated on time so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity and be alert to the 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 or adults. We also advise parents to keep their babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

The Department of Health’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) are considering the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak and a number of options are under review. These include the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and protecting new born babies by either vaccinating them and their families and/or women during pregnancy.

Dr Amirthalingam continued: “GPs have also been reminded to report cases quickly and been made aware of the HPA’s guidance to help reduce the spread of infection – this improved awareness may be contributing to the increase in numbers of laboratory confirmed cases.”


Notes to editors

  1. The 3,523* total of laboratory confirmed whooping cough cases reported to the HPA are provisional. These provisional numbers reflect the total cases which have been tested and then confirmed as positive. In some instances, for example in an outbreak situation, the HPA may not necessarily receive a samples for testing from every suspected case and therefore the true number of confirmed cases may be higher.
  2. Annual laboratory confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales since 2008:
    2011 – 1,118* cases
    2010 - 421 cases
    2009 - 722 cases
    2008 - 902 cases
  3. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis, England and Wales, 2008 to 2012 by age group: January to 31 July
Age group 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
<3 months 112 74 35 83 235
3-5 months 23 18 6 13 39
6-11 months 5 1 2 4 13
1-4 years 16 17 6 5 22
5-9 years 13 17 9 9 71
10-14 years 92 62 28 49 418
15+ years 278 245 129 225 2,725
All ages 539 434 215 388 3,523

4. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis, England and Wales, 2008 & 2012 by region, January to 31 July

Region 2012 to 31 July 2008 to 31 July
East Midlands 444 43
East of England 353 47
London 249 55
North East 149 26
North West 223 61
South East 698 111
South West 668 104
West Midlands 208 42
Yorkshire & Humber 413 33
Wales 118 17
England and Wales 3,523  539

5. For more general information and data on whooping cough (pertussis) visit the whooping cough page .

6. The Health Protection Agency’s Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis can be found on the website. These are being updated on the whooping cough guidelines page.

7. NHS information on whooping cough can be found at NHS Choices [external link].

8. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013 the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk . ‘Like’ us on Facebook at [external link].

9. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.

Last reviewed: 31 August 2012