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Huge rise in whooping cough cases


Health experts have said they are concerned about a surge in the number of cases of the potentially fatal disease whooping cough, with more than 3,500 reported so far this year compared to 1,118 for the whole of the last.

The outbreak has mainly affected teenagers and young adults but high numbers of cases have also been seen in very young babies, who are at highest risk of severe complications.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said 1,047 cases of whooping cough in England and Wales were reported to it in July, bringing the total number of cases so far this year to 3,523.

Of these, 235 cases were in babies under three months and there have been six related deaths in infants up to the end of July, compared with five in the whole of 2008.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, comes and goes in a cycle, with increased incidence occurring every three to four years.

The last peak was in 2008, when 421 cases were reported to the HPA between January 1 and June 30. Today’s figures show a much more worrying picture in 2012.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, an expert in immunisation at the HPA, said: “We are very concerned about the continuing increase in cases.

“Parents should ensure their children are vaccinated on time so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity and be alert to the signs and symptoms - which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults.

“We also advise parents to keep their babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

The Department of Health’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is considering the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak and a number of options are under review.

These include the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and protecting newborn babies by either vaccinating them and their families and/or women during pregnancy.


Readers' comments (3)

  • I suspect that the "vaccine detractors" have contributed, very successfully, to this outbreak of pertussis.

    The internet is full of malicious information which seeks to persuade parents NOT to have their children vaccinated.

    Midwives and Health Visitors must ensure that parents have access to reliable and up to date information on vaccination.

    Whilst it is fact that there are no entirely "risk" free vaccinations ( or medications) the (minimal) risks must be put into perspective for parents in an understandable manner.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • it may be people bringing it in uk when using there visa and are here short stay and not vaccinated

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  • The main problem now seems that there is a new more deadly strain of this virus, and a new vaccine is needed to include this. Victoria has stopped free vaccines which is crazy given the massive increase showing on statistics here. When will the powers that be learn gthis is NOT a way to save a dollar.

    New pertussis strain responsible for Australian epidemic: experts


    Print Article|

    21st Mar 2012
    Danny Rose all articles by this author

    New pertussis strain responsible for Australian epidemic

    A NEW dominant strain of the Bordetella pertussis bacterium may be driving Australia’s epidemic of infection, experts have warned.

    They say the new strain appears to fall outside of the protective range of the current narrow-spectrum vaccine.

    “The prolonged whooping cough epidemic in Australia that began during 2008 has been predominantly caused by the new genotype of B. pertussis,” said researcher Associate Professor Ruiting Lan from the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

    “The genotype was responsible for 31% of cases in the 10 years before the epidemic, and that’s now jumped to 84% – a nearly three-fold increase, indicating it has gained a selective advantage under the current vaccination regime.

    “We need to look at changes to the vaccine itself or increase the number of boosters.”

    Professor Lan's laboratory analysed 194 samples of B. pertussis collected between 2008 and 2010 in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

    Their findings suggest while the current acellular vaccine and dose regimen remained effective against most forms of pertussis, the protection it offered against the emergent genotype “wanes more rapidly”.

    The new strain has also been detected in other countries and should be closely monitored, the researchers said.

    The acellular vaccine replaced a whole-cell vaccine from 1997 due to concerns about the latter’s side-effects.

    “The [whole cell vaccine] contained hundreds of antigens, which gave broad protection against many strains of B. pertussis," Professor Lan said.

    “The [acellular vaccine] contains only three to five antigens [and so] we need to ask what other strategies can be used to combat the epidemic, which is ongoing."

    There were 38,589 pertussis notifications during 2011, up from 4863 in 2007, though, as Professor Lan noted, recent improvements in diagnostic tests may be a factor in the rise.

    J Infect Dis 2012; 205:1220-24

    Tags:Pertussis, vaccination, whooping cough, epidemic.


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