Tenth baby dies as the whooping cough outbreak continues
26th October 2012
Figures released by The Health Protection Agency (HPA) have confirmed that a tenth baby has tragically died from whooping cough in 2012, in what is the worst outbreak of the infectious disease for decades. Health officials are now panicking that the outbreak will continue to get much worse and are predicting the death toll to go up. Whooping cough is also known by its medical name of ‘pertussis’ because it is originates from the species of bacteria - Bordetella pertussis. It is a highly infectious bacterial disease that can easily spread when an infected person coughs and emits the bacteria into the air. This bacterium is then breathed in by another person and then sabotages the lungs and airways, with symptoms of whooping cough usually taking about six to 20 days to appear after infection. Early symptoms are less severe and not too dissimilar to that of the common cold. They include a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, sore throat and a slightly raised temperature. Within a fortnight, the second stage of whooping cough then develops and the ‘Paroxysmal symptoms’ strike. These include very severe bouts of coughing that may bring up phlegm, vomiting following a coughing fit (especially in babies and young children) and redness in the face from the intense coughing. Coughing is commonly experienced in short bursts followed by desperate gasps for air (a ‘whooping’ noise). Major problems arise in regards to whooping cough as babies cannot receive the vaccine for it until they are at least two months old, with following jabs at three and four months of age.  Across England in 2012 alone, there have been ten infants under the age of three months old to have died because of whooping cough. The latest death occurred in September according to the HPA statistics, with there being 6,121 confirmed cases in England and Wales since the start of the year. This is five times the number of 2011 and has led to health officials offering pregnant women a vaccine in the latter stages of her pregnancy in the hope that antibodies will get to the unborn child.  The aim is to provide protection until a vaccine can be administered when the baby is born and a few months old. This preventive measure will not come into effect for several months yet though, and pregnant women are being warned to keep their new-borns far away from anybody who is suffering with whooping cough, regardless of age. Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the Health Protection Agency, said: “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths and welcome the urgent action recently taken by the Department of Health to introduce a vaccine for pregnant women. The introduction of a vaccine for pregnant women will not have an immediate impact on serious infection in infants so vigilance remains important. Working with the Department of Health we will continue to regularly monitor figures to evaluate the success of the programme. 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. 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 but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults. It is also advisable to keep babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.” If you have any of the symptoms of whooping cough, you must go to see your GP immediately and he/she can prescribe a course of antibiotics if the condition is diagnosed within the first few weeks of infection. These can prevent you from being infectious after around five days on the treatment. Any time after a few weeks and your doctor will probably not prescribe any antibiotics as the bacterium will have probably already passed. As babies are most affected by whooping cough, a baby under the age of one year will more than likely be admitted into hospital for treatment and treated in insolation to stop the spread of the condition to other people.