Pertussis cases on the rise in England

The Health Protection Agency in the United Kingdom has confirmed 665 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, in England this year, prompting a warning to parents to vaccinate their children.

There were 1,040 cases of pertussis in England in all of 2011. Cases have been reported throughout England, with some clusters occurring in universities, schools and healthcare settings. Although pertussis can affect people of all ages, the recent rise in cases has affected very young children - the group with the highest risk of severe complications and death, the Guardian reports.

The major symptom of the disease in babies and children is a severe coughing fit followed by a characteristic whoop sound when the child gasps for air. The infection is treated with antibiotics though infants may require hospital care due to the chance of complications.

"Whooping cough can be a very unpleasant infection," Mary Ramsay, the HPA's head of immunization, said, according to the Guardian. "Anyone showing signs and symptoms 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 from this infection and uptake of the vaccine is very good. Parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity."