Alarming rise in whooping cough across Midlands

Baby Max was just 12 weeks old when he became ill with whooping cough Photo: ITV Central

An emergency vaccination programme is being launched as figures show an alarming rise in the number of infants in the Midlands contracting whooping cough.

The statistics released by the Health Protection Agency reveal a staggering increase from last year across the Midlands, with 894 cases reported so far this year compared with just 92 cases reported last year.

Whooping cough can be a serious illness, it is a highly contagious infection, very young children have the risk of severe complications or possibly death, with 9 infants dying in the UK so far this year.

Newborns are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough Credit: ITV Central

The vaccine will be offered to pregnant women during routine antenatal appointments, even those who have been previously immunised, to ensure their immunity is boosted.

Newborns cannot usually be immunised until they are two months old which is why the Department of Health is urging expectant mothers to get vaccinated to improve the baby's immunity from the day they are born.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said:

“Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable.

"Nine infants have died as a result of whooping cough this year and there have been 302 cases of the disease in children under three months old. It’s vital that babies are protected from the day they are born – that’s why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women.”

– Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies

The vaccine, Repevax is usually given to children as part of the Childhood Immunisation Programme which also protects children against diptheria, tetanus and polio.

The approximate 650,000 women each year who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant will be offered the vaccine against the illness for which the medical term is Pertussis.

One mother who knows how serious the illness can be is 36-year-old Rachael Armistead, her baby contracted whooping cough when he was just 12-weeks-old.

To begin with the doctors at George Elliott Hospital thought her son Max had a severe cough, but as his condition deteriorated, doctors carried out tests which revealed he had whooping cough.

"The nights were the worst , if you've never heard a whopping cough before you can't imagine how it sounds.

"It was scary, when he coughed he couldn't get his breath, I felt so helpless.

"He was wired up to machines in hospital, when he had a coughing attack, his vital stats would drop as he couldn't breathe, the medical team would run in to help him."

– Rachael Armistead, Mother
Baby Max with Mum Rachael, fully recovered from whooping cough Credit: ITV Central

When the doctors discovered baby Max had whooping cough he and his mother Rachael were put into isolation as it is a highly contagious illness.

Max was unable to eat, so doctors had to put a feeding tube down his nose to feed him, he lost 12oz in weight - a big amount for a baby.

The coughing attacks were uncontrollable says Rachael:

"When he coughed it would be for six minutes solid, which doesn't sound like much, but when your baby can't get his breath, it's the longest six minutes of your life"

– Rachael Armistead, Mother

Rachael says if she had been given the option of a vaccination when she was pregnant she would have taken it without question, as Max was so young he had only just begun his immunisation programme.

"Max was gasping for breath for a week, no one wants to see their child go through that.

"When he would start whooping, I never knew if he was going to get his breath again."

– Rachael Armistead, Mother
Max is now 4-months-old and has fully recovered from whooping cough Credit: ITV Central

Max is now 4-months-old and has fully recovered, thanks to the medical team at George Elliott says Rachael "I can't thank the team enough, it's a truly horrible illness."

The Health Protection Agency are urging all parents to keep babies away from anyone who has the infection and to be alert to the signs and symptoms of the illness:

Whooping Cough Symptoms:

  • Severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic "whoop" sound in children as they gasp for breath after coughing but a prolonged cough in older children or adults.
  • Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications and death
  • Whooping Cough in older people can be unpleasant, but does not usually lead to serious complications.
  • The infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading further, but young infants may need hospital care due to the risk of severe complications.
  • For more information click here for the NHS.