Warning after whooping cough rise in Bristol and Somerset

People are being urged to ensure that children's vaccinations are up-to-date following a rise in reported cases of whooping cough.

Health officials in Bath and North East Somerset (Banes) say there have been nine reported cases between January and May this year.

Last year, there were less than five cases reported in the area.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said there had been a "sharp rise" in cases nationwide in the past 12 months.

Across England and Wales, 665 cases were reported to the HPA between January and March.

'Hard to treat'

Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a consultant at the Bristol Children's Hospital, said whooping cough was a "terrible illness" in young children.

"Vaccination has made it rare but it has never completely gone away and it now showing worrying signs of coming back," he said.

"It is hard, sometimes impossible to treat so we want parents to do everything they can to limit spread by ensuring their children are fully immunised."

NHS Banes said there had been been 31 confirmed cases in Bristol so far this year, compared with 29 in 2011, "although an NHS Bristol spokesman added that caution should be used when drawing conclusions on the apparent increase, as there had been increased levels of testing this year".

It also said there had been 23 confirmed cases in North Somerset since January 2012 compared with five in 2011.

Twenty-six cases have been reported so far this year in South Gloucestershire, compared with eight in 2011.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can affect all ages, but young children have the highest risk of severe complications, according to the HPA.

The main symptoms are severe coughing fits which, in babies and children, are accompanied by the characteristic "whoop" sound as the child gasps for breath.

Experts said whooping cough could spread easily to close contacts such as household members and vaccination was the most effective way to protect people from the infection.

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