United Kingdom whooping cough cases remain high in November

The United Kingdom's Health Protection Agency announced last week that there were 1,080 confirmed cases of whooping cough in England and Wales during the month of November.

The number of cases was a drop from the 1,631 cases reported in October. The total number of laboratory confirmed cases reported so far in 2012 is 8,819.

"The November figures show a welcome decrease of whooping cough cases since October," Gayatri Amirthalingam, a consultant epidemiologist with the HPA, said. "However, it is very important to note that we usually see a reduction in cases of whooping cough at this time of year so this decrease is in line with normal seasonal patterns."

At the end of September, the United Kingdom Department of Health announced that pregnant women would be offered vaccination against whooping cough to protect their newborn babies. At least 40 percent of pregnant women received the vaccine in the first month of the program.

"Parents should ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough on time, even babies of women who've had the vaccine in pregnancy - this is to continue their baby's protection through childhood," Amirthalingam said.

Whooping cough, which is also known as pertussis, can affect all ages. The disease most often causes severe complications and death in young infants because babies cannot receive complete vaccination until the age of four months old.

"Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough - which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic 'whoop' sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults," Amirthalingam said.