Rates of whooping cough soar in region

CASES of whooping cough have soared by more than 500 in the region in just eight months, shocking new figures have revealed.

The rising rate of infection, which can prove fatal in babies, has prompted medical bosses to offer a new vaccination to pregnant women.

The vaccination to protect against whooping cough would be offered to mothers-to-be who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant.

The new figures released today by the Health Protection Agency reveal that there were 515 confirmed cases of the infection in the east of England in the first eight months of this year – an alarming rise of more than eight times the 64 cases in 2011.

There were just 14 whooping cough cases in 2010.

Across England and Wales, 302 cases involved babies aged under three months – more than double the 115 cases reported in the same period for the previous year – and nine young children have lost their lives as a result of the infection.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s principal medical adviser, said: “Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable.”

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

The vaccination programme, which will be rolled out on Monday, aims to boost the short-term immunity passed on by pregnant women to protect their newborn babies who normally cannot receive the jab until they are two months old.

Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at the Health Protection Agency, said: “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths.

“We welcome the urgent measure from the Department of Health to minimise the harm from whooping cough, particularly in young infants, and we encourage all pregnant women to ensure they receive the vaccination to give their baby the best protection against whooping cough.

“It’s also important we continue to remind all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough to continue their protection through childhood.”

The vaccine, Repevax, which protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and polio, is already used in America.