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Home News centre National Press Releases 2013 Press Releases ›  Cases of whooping cough decline after record numbers in 2012

Cases of whooping cough decline after record numbers in 2012

1 February 2013

There were 9,741* confirmed cases of whooping cough reported in England and Wales in 2012, according to figures published today by the Health Protection Agency (HPA). The total figure for 2012 is almost 10 times higher than the number of cases reported in 2011 (1,119) and in 2008 (902) – the last peak year before this current outbreak.


The December figures show a decrease for the second month running in cases of whooping cough with 832 confirmed cases reported compared with 1,168 cases in November 2012. One further death in an infant with laboratory confirmed whooping cough was reported in December bringing the 2012 total number of deaths in babies under three months to 14.

The highest number of cases were reported in those aged 15 and over, with a total of 8,059 cases in 2012, compared to 740 cases in 2011 and 493 cases in 2008.

Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “The December figures show another welcome decrease in the overall number of whooping cough cases since the peak in 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.

“It is very encouraging to see that 55 per cent of pregnant women delivering in December in England had accepted the offer of a vaccination against whooping cough. 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. Vaccinating women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy should offer babies protection against whooping cough in the first few months of life, before they receive their own vaccines.

“It is important that, parents still 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 Ramsay, added: “Parents should be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough – which include severe coughing fits that may be accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children; older children or adults will usually just have a prolonged cough.”

-Ends-

Notes to editors

1. The 9,741* 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 vaccination between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. The HPA has developed a Q&A about the pertussis vaccination programme for healthcare workers. For more information visit the HPA website's Questions and answers - Pertussis vaccination programme for pregnant women page. 

3. Further information for pregnant women is available from NHS Choices website [external link].

4.  Annual laboratory confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales by age group for 2008 to 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 178 38 8 27 24 134 493 902
2009 108 25 4 28 24 89 441 719
2010 59 8 3 11 16 48 283 428
2011 186 33 9 17 20 114 740 1,119
2012 429 86 29 131 180 827 8,059 9,741

5. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis by region in England and Wales, 2008 and 2012:

Region Jan - Dec 2008 Jan - Dec 2012
East Midlands 66 1,134
East of England 73 1,123
London 107 786
North East 48 430
North West 90 658
South East 183 1,827
South West 161 1,543
Wales 25 341
West Midlands 89 755
Yorkshire & Humber 60 1,144
Total 902 9,741

6. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis in 2012, England and Wales, by age group and month:

Age Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
<1 years 25 29 35 39 44 64 73 72 67 47 33 16 544
1-9 years 6 7 5 11 18 21 25 37 52 48 44 37 311
10-14 years 27 33 42 50 95 75 93 78 83 105 66 80 827
15+ years 170 148 195 270 551 524 871 1043 1130 1433 1025 699 8059
Total 228 217 277 370 708 684 1062 1230 1332 1633 1168 832 9741

7. For more general information and data on whooping cough (pertussis) visit the HPA website's Whooping Cough page. More information can also be found from the NHS website [external link].

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

9. For the latest Department of Health on whooping cough vaccination uptake in pregnant women visit the Department of Health website [external link].

10. 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].

11. 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: 1 February 2013