Whooping cough outbreak leads to five deaths in the U.K.

A total of 2,466 cases of whooping cough have been confirmed in the United Kingdom between January and June, leading to five infant deaths.

The Health Protection Agency said that the number of cases is six times larger than the last comparable outbreak in 2008. The agency is considering a new vaccination booster program along with other options to counteract the problem, the Guardian reports.

"We are working closely with the Department of Health's Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunization to consider the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak," Mary Ramsay, the head of immunization at the HPA, said, according to the Guardian. "The committee is reviewing a number of options, including the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and offering whooping cough vaccination to pregnant women. In the meantime we are actively reviewing our cases to see what interventions could have the quickest impact on the spread."

The average number of cases in the past decade in England and Wales is 800 reported cases, with 300 infant hospitalizations and four deaths annually.

"Whooping cough can spread easily to close contacts such as household members," Ramsay said, according to the Guardian. "Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection and uptake of the vaccine in the UK is very good. In addition to this, parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity."

Infants are routinely vaccinated against the disease, which is also known as pertussis, at the ages of two, three and four months. They also receive a booster three years later.

"Whooping cough can be a very serious illness, especially in the very young," Ramsay said, according to the Guardian. "In older people it can be unpleasant, but does not usually lead to serious complications. 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."