A STAGGERING rise in the number of children hit by whooping cough has been revealed today.
And now health chiefs in Huddersfield plan an urgent immunisation programme to stem the tide.
Pregnant women in Yorkshire will be offered whooping cough vaccinations to protect their babies following a huge rise in cases and deaths of the illness amongst young infants, Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has announced.
Due to begin next week, the programme aims to boost the short-term immunity passed on by pregnant women to protect their babies when they are newborn. Normally they cannot be vaccinated until they are two months old.
The move comes as the latest figures, released today by the Health Protection Agency, show a large increase in cases in young infants across all regions, including Yorkshire.
There were 567 confirmed cases in Yorkshire in the first eight months of this year, compared to 35 in 2011 and 26 in 2010.
In Kirklees, health officials reported 59 cases in the first eight months of 2012, compared to just six in the same period last year.
In the first eight months of this year 302 cases were reported in infants under 12 weeks of age – more than double the 115 cases reported in the same period in 2011.
There were nine deaths of young children in the same period – up from seven in the whole of 2011.
The decision to introduce the temporary programme was made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the Government’s independent vaccine experts – reviewed the available evidence and agreed that the vaccine should be offered to the approximate 650,000 women a year who are between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.
The vaccine will be offered to pregnant women during routine antenatal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP.
Even if women have previously been immunised they will be encouraged to be vaccinated again to boost their immunity, as it helps protect their babies before they can start their own immunisations.
The vaccine, Repevax, is similar to one currently used in the US and protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
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.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths.
“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.”
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be a serious illness, especially in the very young.
The main symptoms are severe coughing fits which, in babies and children, are accompanied by the characteristic "whoop" sound as the child gasps for breath after coughing.
Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications and death.
Whooping cough in older people can be an unpleasant illness, 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.