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Home News centre National Press Releases 2012 Press Releases ›  Whooping cough cases remain high

Whooping cough cases remain high

21 December 2012

Figures published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) today show that cases of whooping cough have continued at high levels during November with 1,080 confirmed cases reported for England and Wales, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 8,819*. No deaths were reported in November.


The total of 1,080 cases reported during November represents a decrease from October when 1,631 cases were reported for England and Wales, which is the first time we’ve seen a decrease in monthly numbers since the current outbreak began in the middle of 2011. However, a decrease in cases is usually seen at this time of year so this does not necessarily represent the end of this severe outbreak.

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.

“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."

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages. Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications and death from 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. 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 Amirthalingam continues, “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.”

-Ends-

Notes to editors

1. The 8,819* 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 samples for testing from every suspected case and therefore the true number of confirmed cases may be higher.

2. Pregnant women will be offered whooping cough vaccinations between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. The HPA has developed a Q&A about the pertussis vaccination programme for healthcare workers which available from the HPA Questions and answers - Pertussis vaccination programme for pregnant women page.
More information for pregnant women is available from NHS Choices website [external link].

3. Monthly laboratory confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales by age group since January 2012:

  <1 year 1-9 years 10-14 years 15+ years All ages

January

 25

 6

 27

170

 228

February

 29

 7

 33

148

 217

March

 35

 5

 42

195

 277

April

 39

11

 50

 270

 370

May

 44

18

 95

 551

 708

June

 64

 21

 75

 524

 684

July

 73

 25

 93

 871

1062

August

 72

 37

 78

1043

1230

September

 67

 52

 83

1130

1332

October

 47

 48

105

1431

1631

November

 29

 41

 60

 950

1080

Total

524

271

741

7283

              8819

 4. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis by region in England and Wales, 2008 to end November 2012:

Region January - November 2008 January - November 2012
East Midlands

 64

 1050

East of England

 70

 1030

London

100

  691

North East

 48

  365

North West

 89

  593

South East

172

1,658

South West

153

1,406

Wales

 23

  299

West Midlands

 82

  692

Yorkshire and the Humber

 59

1035

Total

860

8,819

5. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis, England and Wales, 2008 to 2012 by age group, to end of November 2012:

Age group <3 months 3-5 months 6-11
months
1-4 years 5-9 years 10-14 years 15+ years All
ages
2008

171

37

 8

 26

 23

129

 466

 860

2009

107

25

 4

 27

 24

 89

 427

 703

2010

 55

 8

 3

  9

 14

 43

 265

 397

2011

172

32

 8

 16

 17

 91

 608

 944

2012

418

79

27

112

159

741

7,283

8,819

6. For more general information and data on whooping cough (pertussis) visit the HPA Whooping Cough page or the NHS website [external link].

7. The Health Protection Agency’s Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis can be found on the HPA Whooping Cough Guidelines page. 

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: www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk or ‘Like’ us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HealthProtectionAgency [external link].

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

Last reviewed: 21 December 2012