There has been an increase in the number of cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in Northern Ireland, with 79 confirmed cases so far this year. The total confirmed cases for the whole of 2014 was 33. The total in 2013 was 54, but there aren’t as many this year as in 2012 which saw 314 cases.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “So far there has been a good response from pregnant women to getting vaccinated but it is still important to remind those between 28 and 32 weeks pregnant to get the whooping cough vaccination as babies can’t receive the vaccine in the early weeks after birth.
“Of the 79 cases this year, 19 have been babies under three months old, the time when they are most vulnerable, and unfortunately too young to be protected by the infant whooping cough vaccine. The vaccine for expectant mums can make a big difference to this age group by passing on protection to those who need it most.
“Whooping cough is a disease that can cause long bouts of coughing and choking, which can make it hard to breathe. It can be very serious for young children and even fatal for babies under one year old.
“Vaccination during pregnancy allows antibodies to pass from the pregnant mother to her unborn child and helps protect the baby in the first few weeks of life. The programme has been very successful – the baby’s risk of being infected is reduced by over 90% if the mother gets the vaccine, so we need to make sure that every mum gets vaccinated.
“The best time to get the vaccine is between 28 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, but if a woman misses out during this time, she can still get it after 32 weeks. The vaccine is given at your GP’s surgery – make sure you make an appointment to get it.”
All parents should ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough on time, even babies of women who’ve had the vaccine in pregnancy. This is to continue their baby’s protection through childhood. Vaccination of babies is routinely given at two, three and four months of age, with a booster administered three years later.
Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children, and by a prolonged cough in older children or adults. It is also advisable to keep babies away from anyone showing the signs and symptoms of whooping cough.
For further information on whooping cough and the vaccination programme, please see the Whooping Cough section of the PHA website at bit.ly/wcough