Cases of whooping cough at a 20 year high in the UK

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease of the respiratory tract caused by Bordetella pertussis or parapertussis. The combined diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTap) vaccine was introduced as part of the government-funded childhood vaccination program in 1940, and in most first world countries, over 90% vaccine uptake is achieved. However, the childhood vaccine does not provide lifelong protection, with immunity declining over time.

There has been a significant increase in pertussis incidence in the UK in 2012, with the Health Protection Agency reporting a “greater than expected” number of cases of whooping cough, based on estimates from the same period in 2011. 1,781 cases have been reported to the end of May 2012, compared with 1,118 cases for the whole of 2011. Young babies (<3 months) and young adults (>15 years) are currently the most severely affected: this age-grouped pattern of infection is likely related to a lack of protection in older children and adults who have not received a booster vaccine, who can then act as a reservoir of infection in the community.

The pertussis vaccine is administered as five shots, the first beginning at 2 months of age. If you didn’t receive the full course of the pertussis vaccine as a child, or if it has been more than 10 years since you were vaccinated against pertussis, you should consider receiving an adult booster dose from your health care provider.

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