Whooping cough alert

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PARENTS are being urged to be aware of the symptoms of whooping cough after a dramatic rise in cases in Doncaster.

Experts say whooping cough rates peak once every four years - but this year’s figure far exceeds the number experienced in 2008.

Between January and October this year, 30 suspected cases of whooping cough were reported in Doncaster.

The figure compares to just five instances four years ago.

Dr Wendy Phillips, unit director of the South Yorkshire Health Protection Unit and consultant in communicable disease control, said: “The national outbreak of whooping cough is affecting South Yorkshire.

“Because the illness is highly infectious and can be very serious for young babies, it is important parents and healthcare professionals remain alert to the symptoms.”

Whooping cough is an infectious bacterial disease which spreads when someone with the condition coughs and sheds bacteria which are then inhaled by another person.

“The symptoms include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children, but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults,” said Dr Phillips.

“It is also advisable to keep babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

Nationally, 1,614 cases of whooping cough were confirmed in England and Wales in October alone, bringing the total so far this year to 7,728.

Across Yorkshire and the Humber, there were 925 cases reported in October – 91 of which were laboratory tested in South Yorkshire and confirmed as the infection.

Five of the cases of whooping cough reported in Doncaster this year have been tested and confirmed as positive in the Health Protection Authority laboratory, but not every case is analysed when there is an outbreak.

Because the national outbreak is so severe a vaccine is being offered to pregnant women.

“Pregnant women are now being offered whooping cough vaccination from 28 weeks of pregnancy to protect their newborn babies, who do not usually start their vaccinations against whooping cough until they are two months of age,” said Dr Phillips.

“The aim is to help boost the short-term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.

“We strongly recommend all pregnant women take up the offer of vaccination.

“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.

“In older children and adults, whooping cough can be an unpleasant illness but it does not usually lead to serious complications.”

Dr Phillips added young children are at the highest risk of severe complications or even death from whooping cough, as they do not complete the vaccination until they are about four months old.