Whooping cough kills three babies

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Three babies died of whooping cough in October amid the biggest outbreak in 20 years, health officials said yesterday.

The total number of babies under the age of three months who have died as a result of the infectious disease this year now stands at 13, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

The number of confirmed cases in England and Wales this year is now 7,728.

The HPA said 1,614 cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales in October. In 2011, the total number of cases was 819.

In a bid to combat the outbreak, health officials recently announced that all pregnant women are to be vaccinated against the infection to protect their newborn babies. Youngsters cannot receive the jab until they are two months old.

Increases in whooping cough are usually seen every three to four years. The last rise in the number of confirmed cases was recorded in 2008.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said: “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.

“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.”