Vaccination Call Amid Rise In Whooping Cough Cases

Pregnant women and the parents of young people have been urged to ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough, following a rise in cases in Northern Ireland.

A highly contagious and sometimes serious bacterial infection, there have been 769 confirmed cases of whooping cough (pertussis) so far this year compared with just two between 2021 and 2023, according to The Public Health Agency (PHA).

Louise Flanagan, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, said: "Whooping cough spreads very easily and can make babies and young children in particular very ill, and sadly can even be fatal in young babies or people with heath conditions. However, the good news is that it can be prevented through vaccination, so it's really important that parents get their babies vaccinated against it as part of the childhood vaccination programme, and that pregnant women also get vaccinated, as this will help protect their unborn baby from getting whooping cough in the weeks after birth.

"Whooping cough is a disease that can cause long bouts of coughing and choking, which can make it hard to breathe. The evidence shows that babies born to vaccinated mothers are 90% less likely to get the disease than babies whose mothers were unvaccinated.

"Whooping cough tends to circulate in greater numbers in Northern Ireland every three to four years. Currently we are seeing an increase, so it is a timely reminder of the importance of vaccination.

"Young babies are at greatest risk of developing more serious disease, so it is very important that women take the offer of pertussis vaccine during each pregnancy so that their baby is protected against whooping cough after they are born, and that they continue that vaccination journey after their baby is born, getting them vaccinated, starting from when they are two months old as part of the childhood vaccination programme.
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"The best time for women to get the vaccine is between 16 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, but vaccine can be beneficial even if given later. Whooping cough vaccines are given at GP practices so make sure to make an appointment to get it. If you have any questions about vaccination during pregnancy talk to your midwife or GP about the vaccines."

The whooping cough vaccine is also given as part of the childhood vaccination programme to children at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age and at aged 3 years 4 months.

Parents and guardians should ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough on time to continue their baby's protection through childhood. If you are unsure if your child is up to date with vaccinations, the easiest way to check is to look at your child's red book or speak to your health visitor or GP practice.

Just like we have seen with the MMR vaccine, which helps protect against measles, mumps and rubella, there has been a decrease in the percentage of children and pregnant women receiving the whooping cough vaccination. All childhood vaccines provide the best protection for children against severe infections.

Increases in levels of the illness are usually seen every three to four years. Parents should 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 or symptoms of whooping cough.

Whooping cough can spread very easily. It is best to call your GP practice or GP Out of Hours service before you go in person. This will help to reduce it spreading to others. In an emergency, dial 999.

For further information on whooping cough and vaccinations visit www.pha.site/whooping-cough and www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/whooping-cough

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