24/06/2019

Reported Cases Of Whooping Cough Almost Triple

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding expectant mothers to get the whooping cough vaccine after 44 cases of the disease were reported so far this year.

The figure marks a significant rise compared to last year, when just 16 cases were recorded during the first half of the year.

Of the 44 cases confirmed by 19 June, just over one fifth were in infants under six months of age, when babies are too young to be protected by their routine childhood immunisations given at two, three and four months.

Pregnant women are advised to have the vaccine for whooping cough, a disease that can cause long bouts of coughing and choking, which can make it hard to breathe, between 16 and 32 weeks of their pregnancy. It can be very serious for infants under the age of one year, and sadly even fatal in young babies. The evidence shows that babies born to vaccinated mothers are 90% less likely to get the disease than babies whose mothers were unvaccinated.
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Dr Jillian Johnston, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: "Whooping cough continues to circulate in Northern Ireland and every 3-4 years it is normal to see increased activity, which is what we are experiencing this year. However, babies under three months are too young to have received their routine childhood vaccinations and are at greatest risk of developing more serious disease. It is therefore really important that women receive the pertussis vaccine during every pregnancy so that their baby is protected against whooping cough in their first months of life.

"In 2018/19, 67% of expectant mothers that delivered in Northern Ireland received the pertussis vaccine. We want to encourage all pregnant women to get the vaccine and so reduce the risk of their baby catching whooping cough after he or she is born.

"The best time to get the vaccine is between 16 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, but if a woman misses out, she can still get it later in pregnancy, although the sooner she gets it the better. The vaccine is given at your GP's surgery- make sure you make an appointment to get it."

Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough. They include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic 'whoop' sound in young children and a prolonged cough in older children or adults. Very young babies may not develop the 'whoop' but may have severe coughing bouts and difficulty catching their breath.

It is also advisable to keep babies away from anyone showing the signs and symptoms of whooping cough. 

Further information on whooping cough and the vaccination programme can be gained from your GP or midwife or on the PHA website.



(JG/CM)

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