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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

30 November 2012

Figures published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) today reveal 1,614 cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales in October 2012, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 7,728*.

The total number of cases so far in 2012 (up to end of October) is nearly ten times higher than for the same period in 2008, the last ‘peak’ year before this current outbreak, when 797 cases were reported. There have been three deaths in infants with laboratory confirmed whooping cough reported in October bringing the total number of deaths in this age group so far this year to 13.

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.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said: “The October figures show a continuing rise in the overall number of whooping cough cases. While there has been a decline in the number of infant cases it’s important to emphasise that it’s too early to see any impact from the pregnancy vaccination programme. Working with the Department of Health we are continuing to carefully monitor whooping cough activity to evaluate the success of the programme.

“We strongly recommend all pregnant women take up the offer of vaccination. Parents should also 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.


Notes to Editors

1. The 7,728* 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. Visit the HPA Questions and answers - Pertussis vaccination programme for pregnant women web page for further details. More information for pregnant women is available from NHS Choices [external link].

3. Annual laboratory confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales since 2008:
    2012 – 7,728* cases (to end of October)
    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 October 2012:

Region January - October 2008 January - October 2012
East Midlands 938 938
East of England 65 886
London 86 601
North East 43 318
North West 84 511
South East 162 1478
South West 143 1244
Wales 22 243
West Midlands 77 584
Yorkshire & Humber 55 925
Total 797 7728

 5. Provisional number of confirmed cases of pertussis, England and Wales, 2008 to 2012 by age group, to end of October 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 165 36 8 25 17 124 422 797
2009 104 24 4 24 22 87 399 664
2010 48 8 3 7 14 41 236 357
2011 153 28 7 14 15 79 523 819
2012 396 73 25 92 138 682 6322 7728

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

7. The Health Protection Agency’s Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis can be found on the 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: or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk or ‘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: 30 November 2012