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Home News centre National Press Releases 2012 Press Releases ›  HPA reports continued increase in whooping cough cases

HPA reports continued increase in whooping cough cases

13 April 2012

Ongoing clusters of measles cases also highlights importance of maintaining high vaccine uptake

665* laboratory confirmed cases of whooping cough have been reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in England and Wales between January and March 2012, compared to total of 1,040* cases across the whole of 2011.

The increase – continuing from the second half of 2011 - has been reported across all regions in England with some areas reporting clusters in schools, universities and healthcare settings.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages. However over the last few months the increase has extended to very young children who have the highest risk of severe complications and death.

Whooping cough in older people can be an unpleasant illness but does not usually lead to serious complications.

The main symptoms of whooping cough are severe coughing fits which, in babies and children, are accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound as the child gasps for breath after coughing.

The infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading further but young infants may need hospital care due to the risk of severe complications.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA said: “Whooping cough can be a very unpleasant infection. Anyone showing 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 and adults – should visit their GP.

“Whooping cough can spread easily to close contacts such as household members. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection and uptake of the vaccine is very good..Parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity. The pre-school booster is also important, not only to boost protection in that child but also to reduce the risk of them passing the infection on to vulnerable babies, as those under four months cannot be fully protected by the vaccine.

“The HPA has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms of this infection and stress the importance of vaccination. The agency is also encouraging GPs to report cases quickly and to make them aware of the HPA’s guidance to help reduce the spread of the infection.”
The HPA is also reminding parents to ensure their children are protected against measles due to a slight increase in cases since the beginning of the year. So far, 253 laboratory confirmed measles cases have been reported to the agency in 2012 compared to 200 cases reported for the same period last year. The majority of cases have been in unvaccinated individuals.
Dr Ramsay continued: “As we approach the time of year when many children are travelling on school trips and family holidays, we are again urging parents to protect their children against measles by ensuring they have been immunised with two doses of MMR. This is particularly important given the increase in cases in children and young adults over the last few months. The continued outbreak in the Merseyside area is a clear demonstration that measles can be a very serious illness.
"Measles is a highly infectious which spreads very easily particularly in schools and universities. It's never too late to get your child immunised with two doses of the MMR vaccine. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. Delaying immunisation puts children at risk."

Notes for

1. The 665* and 1040* 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 sample for testing from every suspected case and therefore the true number of confirmed cases may be higher.

2.  Increases of whooping cough cases are seen every three to four years. During the second half of 2011, an increase in cases was observed which has continued into 2012. The total number of cases in 2011 (1040*) were slightly above what would be expected based on a typical peak year. In 2011, the increase in cases was mainly observed in teenagers and adults between the ages of 15–40.

Annual laboratory confirmed cases of whooping cough in England and Wales since 2008:
2011 – 1040* cases
2010 - 421 cases
2009 - 722 cases
2008 - 902 cases

3. Number of laboratory confirmed whooping cough (pertussis) cases in England and Wales by region (January - March 2012):



East Midlands


East of England




North East


North West


South East


South West


West Midlands




Yorkshire and Humber


England and Wales total


4. Vaccination is the most important control measure in preventing whooping cough. Children in the UK are offered whooping cough vaccine at two, three and four months of age as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme. The vaccine which protects against whooping cough also protects against diphtheria, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b - a cause of meningitis - and tetanus. Children should receive a booster at around three years of age, before they start school. It is important that children receive all these doses so that they can build up and keep high levels of immunity to the disease.

5. Number of confirmed cases of measles with onset in 2011 and number by month of onset and region, January to March 2012: England and Wales

Month/ Year London E Mids Eastern N East N West S East S West W Mids Wales York & Hum Total
Total 2011 421 16 42 15 40 344 87 40 19 62 1086
Jan-12 11 0 0 0 3 21 2 1 1 0 39
Feb-12 7 0 2 0 61 9 2 2 24 0 107
Mar-12 11 0 1 0 72 14 0 0 6 1 105
Total 2012 29 0 3 0 136 44 4 3 33 1 253

 6. HPA information on whooping cough (pertussis):
HPA information on measles:
Additional information can be found on the NHS Choices website: [external link]

7. The HPA’s Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis can be found here:
- Frequently asked Questions on measles and travel can be found here:
- HPA leaflet for those going to camp can be found here:

8. The latest UK MMR vaccine coverage data published for children reaching their second or fifth birthday in October to December 2011 quarter shows 91.9% of 2 years olds have received their first dose and 86.7% of five years olds completed the two dose course.
Latest UK quarterly vaccine figures for DTaP/IPV/Hib uptake in October to December 2011 shows that 95.1 had completed their primary immunisation by 1 year of age, 96.6% by 2 years of age and 88.2% have received their booster dose by 5 years of age.

9. 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, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, 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.

10. 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: 1 May 2012