Pregnant women and the parents of young kids should make sure they are up to date on their whooping cough immunizations, The Public Health Agency (PHA) suggested after seeing the increase in the number of cases during 2012.

Although there has been a rise in the number of children receiving vaccines for the disease in Northern Ireland, the prevalence of whooping cough, also known as (pertussis), has elevated this year. As of the end of September, there have been 221 established cases so far, 30 of which accounted for the last month alone, and kids were responsible for 137 of those cases. In 2011, the number of confirmed cases was just 15.

According to a previous study, the United States is heading for the largest number of reported cases of whooping cough in 53 years. England, Wales, and Scotland have also reported a dramatic increase in whooping cough incidents to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Levels of the disease rise every three to four years. However, this year has the highest numbers reported in the past twenty years.

In order to keep newborn babies safe from the whooping cough, even though they are not normally vaccinated until at least 2 months old, pregnant women should receive the vaccination, revealed The Health Minister at the end of September. This new vaccine program will help enhance the short term immunity that moms give to their babies before they are born.

Dr. Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “The vaccination program for women who are 28 weeks pregnant or more, has now begun. This will be coordinated through GPs who will contact eligible women.”

Whooping cough is a serious and highly contagious illness which can make a person have a difficult time breathing, due to the drawn-out fits of coughing and choking. Young kids with the disease are put in a very dangerous situation, and it is even life-threatening for babies one year old and under.

Until newborns receive the vaccination, they have littler or no protection against whooping cough. Since antibodies from the pregnant mother pass on to the unborn baby, the vaccination of pregnant moms will help keep the baby safe until they are old enough to receive the immunization themselves, or at least in the first few weeks of life.

Babies normally receive their vaccines when they are two, three, and four months of age, and then are given a booster three years after.

Dr. Smithson explained:

“The vaccine which will be given to expectant mothers through this program, called Repevax®, will also provide protection against diphtheria, tetanus and polio, in addition to whooping cough.

There is no evidence to suggest that the use of this vaccine during pregnancy is unsafe for either the expectant mother or their unborn baby. The vaccine is not live and cannot cause whooping cough. There may be some mild side effects from this vaccination, such as swelling, redness or tenderness, although serious side effects are extremely rare.”

It is critical for parents to take their children to be vaccinated against whooping cough at the proper age, even if the child’s mom was vaccinated during pregnancy.

Parents need to take note of the signs and symptoms of the disease, including:

  • severe coughing fits occurring with the “whoop” sound in young kids
  • a prolonged cough in older children or adults

It is also recommended to not bring babies anywhere near someone who is displaying the signs and symptoms of whooping cough.

Written by Sarah Glynn