There have been 1,781 confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales in the first five months of 2012, compared to a total of 1,118 cases across the whole of 2011, Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures show. This represents the largest surge in cases since the early 1990s.
In infants under three months, 138 cases were reported to the end of May 2012, including five deaths.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said the HPA was ‘very concerned’ about the ongoing increase in cases.
'The HPA has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms of this infection and stress the importance of vaccination,’ she said.
‘The agency is also encouraging GPs to report cases quickly to reduce the spread of the infection and make them aware of the HPA’s guidance for the management of whooping cough cases.'
Dr Ramsay said the HPA was working closely with the DH and NHS to monitor the situation and make recommendations to control the spread of infection and alert the public to signs and symptoms.
‘Whooping cough can be a very serious illness, especially in the very young,’ she said. ‘In older people it can be unpleasant but does not usually lead to serious complications.
'Anyone showing 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 and adults, should visit their GP.’
She added: ‘The infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading further but young infants may need hospital care due the risk of severe complications.’
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) is currently looking at whether booster vaccinations for pertussis could be given to adolescents.