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Home News centre National Press Releases 2012 Press Releases ›  Whooping cough outbreak continues

Whooping cough outbreak continues

25 October 2012

According to figures published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) today, 1,322 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) were reported in England and Wales in September 2012, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 6,121*.


The total number of cases so far in 2012 (up to end of September) is more than five times higher than the annual total number of cases reported in 2011 (1,118) and almost seven times higher than the total in 2008 (902) – the last ‘peak’ year before this current outbreak. In September there was one pertussis-related death in an infants under three months of age, bringing the total number of deaths in this age group so far this year to ten.

At the end of September, the Department of Health announced that pregnant women would be offered the whooping cough vaccination to protect their newborn babies, who are not usually vaccinated until between two and four months. The introduction of the vaccine programme in pregnant women will help to boost the short term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths and welcome the urgent action recently taken by the Department of Health to introduce a vaccine for pregnant women.

“The introduction of a vaccine for pregnant women will not have an immediate impact on serious infection in infants so vigilance remains important. Working with the Department of Health we will continue to regularly monitor figures to evaluate the success of the programme.

“All 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. 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. It is also advisable to keep babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

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.

Ends

Notes to editors

1. The 6,121* 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.   

More information for pregnant women is available from the NHS Choices website [external link]

3. Annual laboratory confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales since 2008:
2012 – 6,121* cases (to end of September)
2011 - 1,118 cases
2010 - 422 cases 2009 - 719 cases
2008 - 902 cases

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

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

EAST MIDLANDS

56

45

20

79

758

EAST OF ENGLAND

63

48

18

69

690

LONDON

78

71

36

62

451

NORTH EAST

38

17

35

54

246

NORTH WEST

80

78

51

73

380

SOUTH EAST

144

123

50

118

1221

SOUTH WEST

125

93

48

89

1006

WALES

21

26

8

37

185

WEST MIDLANDS

67

40

14

41

435

YORKSHIRE & HUMBER

53

45

34

45

749

Total

725

586

314

667

6121

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

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

<3 months

157

98

45

135

350

3-5 months

36

23

7

22

72

6-11 months

8

4

3

7

26

1-4 years

22

20

7

11

66

5-9 years

16

21

12

14

121

10-14 years

118

83

38

69

579

15+ years

368

337

202

409

4907

Grand Total

725

586

314

667

6121

6. For more general information and data on whooping cough (pertussis) visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/WhoopingCough/  or http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/whooping-cough/Pages/Introduction.aspx [external link] 

7. The Health Protection Agency’s Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis can be found on the website. These are being updated: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/WhoopingCough/Guidelines/

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

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: 25 October 2012