Mothers-to-be urged to have jab to prevent whooping cough risk
The worst outbreak of whooping cough for 20 years has prompted health officials to offer pregnant women vaccinations to protect their unborn babies from the disease.
Starting yesterday, mothers-to-be across the Westcountry who are 28 weeks or more into their pregnancy are being offered the jab.
Nationally, nine babies have died as a result of whooping cough this year.
According to the Health Protection Agency the South West has been particularly badly affected by the outbreak which saw cases of the disease go from 112 in 2008, down to 81 the following year, 44 the year after, to 65 in 2011 and then to an astonishing 843 this year until the end of July.
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In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly alone, there have been 48 cases reported in all ages from January to August this year, a rise from just five cases in the same area recorded across all of last year.
Felicity Owen, director of public health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said there were measures which could be taken.
"We are asking all women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly who are 28 weeks pregnant or more to contact their GP to get the vaccination to protect them and their babies against this highly contagious disease." she said.
"The vaccine will boost the short-term immunity passed on by pregnant women to their newborn babies, who normally cannot be vaccinated themselves until they are two months old.
"It will also provide protection for them while in the womb if their mum contracts the disease."
Whooping cough is caused by a bacterium and the symptoms are a bad cough followed by a noticeable "whoop" sound. Although for most people the condition is just unpleasant and goes away on its own, it can be very serious for babies and in the worst cases can be fatal.
Letters will go out to eligible women in the region inviting them to contact their surgery as soon as possible to arrange to have their vaccination.
Youngsters cannot receive the jab until they are two months old and it is believed vaccinating their mothers before they are born will boost their immunity until they reach the age they can receive the injection themselves.
Health chiefs say the vaccine is completely safe to have while pregnant and women planning to have a flu vaccine can have both at the same time.
They are advised they should still have this whooping cough vaccine even if they had it when they were a child.
The vaccine has been recommended by experts and a similar vaccine is already given to pregnant women in the US.
The £10 million programme, which has only been set up on a temporary basis, has been given the seal of approval from a number of medical experts.
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "This campaign has our full support. Whooping cough is on the increase among young babies and it can be a dangerous and potentially fatal infection.
"We encourage pregnant women to have the vaccine in the final trimester of pregnancy to protect themselves and their baby from the disease in the first weeks after it is born."