Nearly 500 cases of whooping cough have been reported in the South West in the first part of 2012. This is more than double the cases across the whole of last year.
The Health Protection Agency says this sharp rise in cases outlines the need for vaccination and the importance of early diagnosis.
471 cases have been reported in the region this year, compared to 219 for the whole of 2011. Similar figures have been recorded across all regions in England.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages, but fortunately, although unpleasant for older people, it does not usually lead to serious complications. However, for very young children it can cause more severe complications and be a life threatening disease.
The main symptoms of whooping cough are severe coughing fits which may be accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound caused by gasps for breath after coughing. The cough can last for weeks or months.
The Health Protection Agency has already written to GPs across the country to remind them of the signs and symptoms of the infection and stressing the importance of vaccination. The agency is also encouraging GPs to report cases quickly.
Children in the UK are offered whooping cough vaccine at two, three and four months of age as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme. The vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, also protects against diphtheria, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b - a cause of meningitis - and tetanus. Children should receive a booster three years after their first vaccination.