CASES of whooping cough have surged across South Yorkshire with the region named as one of the worst-affected areas in the UK.
Pregnant women are to be given jabs against the illness, which can potentially be fatal. Thousands of expectant mothers will be offered the vaccination - usually given to babies at two months old - from next week, as part of a £10 million programme nationwide to combat the increase in youngsters being diagnosed with the disease.
Across Yorkshire and the Humber, there have been 567 confirmed cases in the first eight months this year, including 50 in South Yorkshire - compared with just 35 across the whole region during 2011.
The majority of the diagnoses in Yorkshire and the Humber - the fourth worst-affected region in the UK - have occurred in newborns under 12 weeks.
The news is a particular cause for concern as the disease, also known as pertussis, poses the highest risk to young infants.
Dr Oliver Hart, a GP at Sloan Medical Centre, Little London Road, Heeley, Sheffield, said: “I think there has been a surge across the whole of the population. Immunisation is a really important part of healthcare and at the surgery we are strong supporters of any drive to prevent things before they start to affect more people.
“It is important children have immunisations and I welcome steps the Department of Health is taking to give further protection.”
Whooping cough affects all ages but infants are more likely to suffer severe complications and death, as babies do not complete vaccination programmes until they are around four months old.
The Department of Health has sprung into action by ordering a nationwide immunisation programme.
Women between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant will be given the vaccine ‘to boost the short-term immunity passed on by pregnant women to protect their newborn babies’, who normally cannot be vaccinated until they are two months old.
Primary care trusts in Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster have backed the immunisation scheme, which will be implemented through GPs, nurses and midwives in the area. The last rise in the number of confirmed cases was in 2008, but Dr Finn Romanes, an NHS consultant in public health medicine, said cases tend to increase every three to four years.
Dr Romanes said: “Cases of whooping cough tend to increase every three to four years. The increase seen this year may also be due to a higher level of awareness of the illness.”
THE EARLY SYMPTOMS:
THE early symptoms of whooping cough are often similar to those of a common cold and may include:
* runny or blocked nose
* watering eyes
* dry, irritating cough
* sore throat
* raised temperature
* feeling unwell
These early signs of whooping cough can last for one to two weeks, before becoming more severe. The Department of Health said main symptoms are severe coughing fits which, in babies and children, are accompanied by characteristic’whoop’ sound as the child gasps for breath after coughing. People with whooping cough are infectious from six days after exposure to three weeks after ‘whooping’ cough begins.