whoopingThe largest outbreak of whooping cough for 20 years is seemingly slowing down according to the latest figures from the Health Protection Agency.

There were 832 new cases in December, nearly half the figure from October, and the second month in the row that numbers fell.

The total figure for 2012 was almost 10 times higher than the number of cases reported in 2011 and, at 9,741, some 8,839 more than the last peak in 2008.

One baby died in December, bringing the total number of deaths in newborns during the outbreak to 14, and though there appears to be a decline experts have warned the outbreak may not be over as there is a seasonal dip in cases.

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. 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. Parents should remain alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough, including 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."

There tend to be surges in whooping cough cases every three to four years. However, last year saw an unprecedented 10-fold rise in England and Wales with a similar pattern also seen in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can affect all ages but 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.

Posted 04/02/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com