Whooping cough fear

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WIGANERS are being urged to look out for symptoms of whooping cough following the death of three babies.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) says there have been 665 lab-confirmed cases, 65 of which were in babies under three months.

Three babies have died from whooping-cough complications in England and Wales this year, health experts say.

This is before infants are fully vaccinated.

Surges in the number of whooping-cough cases are seen every three to four years.

Health chiefs are warning that a marked rise in cases could lead to further cases if it is not caught early. In the North West, the number of cases has more than doubled from 65 in 2010 to 107 in 2011.

Dr Mary Ramsay, the HPA’s head of immunisation, said: “Whooping cough can be a very unpleasant infection. “Anyone showing signs and symptoms - which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children, but as a prolonged cough in older children and adults – should visit their GP.

“Whooping cough can spread easily to close contacts such as household members. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people. Parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity.”

“The pre-school booster is also important, not only to boost protection in that child but also to reduce the risk of them passing the infection on to vulnerable babies, as those under four months cannot be fully protected by the vaccine.

“The HPA has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms of this infection and stress the importance of vaccination.

“The agency is also encouraging GPs to report cases quickly and to make them aware of the HPA’s guidance to help reduce the spread of the infection.”

Vaccination is the most important control measure in preventing this disease and children are offered whooping cough vaccine at two, three and four months of age as part of the routine vaccination programme.

“The vaccine also protects against diphtheria, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b – a cause of meningitis – and tetanus.