Pregnant women urged to protect their babies from whooping cough as infections rise across the south
Cases of highly infectious whooping cough have increased by 25% across the south region, posing a serious risk to babies and young infants. Yet despite the rise, thousands of women are still not being vaccinated, with 40% of pregnant women not taking the protection it offers to their new born child.
A regional campaign has been launched to raise awareness of the risks and promote uptake of the vaccine among pregnant women.
Whooping cough – known medically as pertussis – is an infection which can create serious breathing difficulties, particularly in babies and young children. It can lead to major health complications such as brain damage and pneumonia and can be fatal.
In the south region, there were 1141 cases of whooping cough in 2014, increasing by over 25% to 1432 in 2015. In 2012, 14 babies died in England and Wales following a whooping cough infection.
New born and young babies are particularly vulnerable, but a highly effective vaccine is routinely available to pregnant women, who then pass the resistance to their unborn child, protecting the baby from birth until they are old enough to receive their childhood immunisations at around three months old.
The vaccine is given at a GP practice or in maternity units at the point of the foetal abnormality scan, from 20 weeks of pregnancy. Ideally it should be given before 32 weeks, but it can still be given right up to the point of labour, but with reduced effectiveness.
The national average coverage of eligible pregnant women is around 60%. But in the South there is significant variation – as low as just 43% in Slough CCG area – highlighting areas where many women are not receiving the protection offered by the vaccine.
During the winter flu season, pregnant women should also receive the flu vaccination, which can be given at the same time as whooping cough.
Find out more on the NHS Choices website and search ‘whooping cough’