The whooping cough outbreak has now claimed the lives of 10 babies, say health officials.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said September alone saw 1,322 confirmed cases in England and Wales - 300 more than the total figure for the whole of 2011.
So far this year in England, the infectious disease has resulted in the deaths of 10 babies under the age of three months, with the total number of confirmed cases for the first nine months of 2012 standing at 6,121.
In a bid to combat the outbreak - the biggest for 20 years - chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government’s principal medical adviser, has said that all pregnant women in the UK and aged between 28 and 38 would now be offered a whooping cough vaccination to protect their unborn babies.
Babies cannot be vaccinated before the age of two months but giving the jab to their mothers before they are born will boost their immunity until they are old enough to have the injection themselves, said the chief medical officer.
The HPA’s head of immunisation, Dr Mary Ramsay, welcomed the Department of Health’s vaccination programme, adding that the agency was “very concerned” about the continuing rise in cases and related deaths.
But she warned: “The introduction of a vaccine for pregnant women will not have an immediate impact on serious infection in infants so vigilance remains important. Working with the Department of Health, we will continue to regularly monitor figures to evaluate the success of the programme.”
Dr Ramsay has urged parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against the disease on time, including those whose mothers had received the jab during pregnancy, and to keep babies away from siblings or adults with the infection.
She also said parents should be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough. They include severe coughing fits accompanied by a ‘whoop’ sound in young children, and a prolonged cough in adults and older children.