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Effects of whooping cough differ across ages

Older children and adults tend to suffer a prolonged cough. Credit: PA Archive

While whooping cough can cause nasty symptoms in adults, it does not usually cause any long-lasting complications and can be treated with antibiotics.

In the very young, whooping cough can be a serious illness and can lead to death in some cases.

Babies and children can often make a distressing "whoop" sound while gasping for air after a coughing fit. Older children and adults tend to suffer a prolonged cough.

Nearly 400 whooping cough cases in children under three months

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said:

Whooping cough is highly contagious and infants are particularly vulnerable. Thirteen infants have died as a result of whooping cough this year and there have been nearly 400 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 encouraging all pregnant women to be vaccinated.

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'Too early' to see impact of whooping cough vaccination

Health officials recently announced that all pregnant women will be vaccinated against whooping cough in an attempt to combat the infection and protect newborns.

Responding to last month's figures on the outbreak, 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. While there has been a decline in the number of infant cases it's important to emphasise that it's too early to see any impact from the pregnancy vaccination programme. Working with the Department of Health, we are continuing to carefully monitor whooping cough activity to evaluate the success of the programme.

Three babies died of whooping cough last month

Health officials recently announced that all pregnant women are to be vaccinated against the infection. Credit: Katie Collins/PA Wire

Three babies died of whooping cough in October amid the biggest outbreak in 20 years, the Health Protection Agency has announced.

The deaths took the total number of babies under the age of three months to have been killed this year by the infectious disease to 13.

The number of confirmed cases in England and Wales this year is now 7,728.

The HPA said 1,614 cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales in October. In 2011, the total number of cases was 819.

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Whooping cough jabs welcomed by health officials

The vaccine from pregnant mothers will be administered through routine antenatal appointments with nurses, midwives or GPs.

The £10 million programme, which has been set up on a temporary basis, has been endorsed by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and a number of royal colleges.

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.

– Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the Health Protection Agency

This (vaccine) will mean that the mothers are less likely to catch the disease themselves and so won't pass it on to their new born babies. In addition, they will pass on some immunity to their babies until they themselves are immunised.

At the same time, it is important to ensure that all children receive a full course of the vaccine and that this is not delayed. The vaccine is very safe with no more side effects or contraindications than the other routine childhood vaccines.

– Dr David Elliman, immunisation specialist of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
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