47 cases of whooping cough in Plymouth sees call for vaccination
HEALTH chiefs are appealing to pregnant women to get vaccinated amid the biggest outbreak of whooping cough in 20 years.
The potentially fatal disease has been confirmed in dozens of city children and babies already this year.
Across England and Wales, three babies died in October – and 13 have lost their lives to the condition during 2012.
Babies and young children are at the biggest risk of catching the infectious disease – and mothers-to-be are now being offered a vaccination during pregnancy.
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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, when there were five in Plymouth.
Between January and October this year there have already been 47 confirmed cases in the city, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said yesterday.
There were only 12 cases in the area in the previous five years.
The vast majority of those to have suffered from whooping cough in Plymouth this year are young children.
The HPA the figures for confirmed cases in the city were in line with national trends.
Nation-wide, cases have rocketed from just 819 last year to 7,728 this year.
Health officials are now calling on women between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant to take up the offer of vaccination.
Youngsters cannot receive the jab until they are two months old, but vaccinating their mothers before they are born will boost their immunity until then.
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.
"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."
Symptoms include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic 'whoop' sound in young children, but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults.
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, added: "Whooping cough is highly contagious and infants are particularly vulnerable.
"It's vital that babies are protected from the day they are born – that's why we are encouraging all pregnant women to be vaccinated."