Newborn babies could get whooping cough vaccination
Consideration is being given to vaccinating newborn babies against whooping cough because of this year's dramatic increase in cases.
It is one option being looked at by the Department of Health's joint committee on vaccination and immunisation.
The number of cases in England and Wales this year is already three times higher than for the whole of 2011.
The Department of Health said any decision to expand the vaccination programme would not be taken lightly.
Babies are currently offered a whooping cough vaccine at two, three and four months of age.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said on Friday that it was very concerned about the surge and warned parents to be on the look-out for symptoms of whooping cough and to ensure their children were vaccinated on time.Booster doses
The condition is characterised by severe coughing, followed by a gasp or "whoop".
There have been 235 cases this year among babies aged under three months, which is double the number recorded in the last peak in 2008.
- It is also known as pertussis and is caused by a species of bacteria, Bordetella pertussis
- Infants are at the highest risk of complications and even death
- The earliest signs are similar to a common cold, which then develop into a cough and can even result in pneumonia
- Babies may turn blue while coughing due to a lack of oxygen
- The cough tends to come in short bursts followed by desperate gasps for air (the whooping noise)
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is more dangerous for young babies because they do not get the benefits from vaccination until about four months.
The Department of Health's committee is considering whether to vaccinate more people to help tackle the outbreak.
This could mean booster doses for teenagers, and jabs for pregnant women and newborn babies and their families.
The HPA said there had been 1,047 whooping cough cases reported in July, bringing the total this year to 3,513. Surges are seen every three to four years.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We continue to see high uptake of vaccination against whooping cough and are investigating the recent increase in cases. This highlights the importance of vaccination against this and other illnesses.
"The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation is looking at whether more people need to be vaccinated. Careful consideration is always needed around expanding any programme.
"Parents should make sure their children are up to date with all vaccinations, and should speak to their GP if they need advice."