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Pregnant women urged to get whooping cough jab

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
vaccine and needle

4th September 2015 - Pregnant women should ensure they are vaccinated against whooping cough to protect themselves and their babies from the disease, say health experts.

The call comes as the latest figures confirm that whooping cough infection rates continue to be at raised levels in England.

The latest data on vaccination rates show that 56.4% of pregnant women in England have had the jab.

Hacking cough

Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and airways. It usually begins with mild, cold-like symptoms that develop over 1 to 2 weeks causing a persistent hacking cough with a characteristic whooping noise.

Whooping cough is also known as pertussis after the bacterium called Bordetella pertussis that causes it.

Pregnant women in the UK have been offered whooping cough vaccine since October 2012 in response to a national outbreak.

Vulnerable babies

Public Health England (PHE) says that confirmed cases of whooping cough in babies under 3 months of age remain low, which it says shows the vaccination programme is helping protect many young babies from birth. However, babies born to unvaccinated mums remain vulnerable to the disease in their first few weeks of life, it says.

There were 1,744 laboratory confirmed whooping cough cases reported in England this year to June 2015 - up from 1,412 cases in the same period last year.

Urging pregnant women to ask their GP or midwife about getting vaccinated, Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, says: "The latest figures show that whooping cough is still prevalent in England and it’s important that pregnant women visit their GP surgery or midwife to get vaccinated, ideally between weeks 28 and 32 of their pregnancy.

"Being vaccinated against whooping cough while you’re pregnant is a highly-effective way to protect your baby in the first few weeks of their life.

"The immunity you get from the vaccine passes to your baby and provides them with protection until they are old enough to be routinely vaccinated against whooping cough at 2 months old."

Health complications

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is welcoming the reminder for pregnant women to get the jab. Its vice president, Professor Alan Cameron, says: "Whooping cough can be especially dangerous in newborns who are at greater risk of complications, such as pneumonia which can lead to death, if they catch the infection before they are routinely immunised."

He adds in a statement: "We understand some women may have concerns about receiving vaccinations during their pregnancy, but we can provide reassurance that the whooping cough vaccine is safe for use during pregnancy, with no known adverse side effects for mother or baby."

Getting a flu jab

The Royal College of Midwives is also urging pregnant women to get vaccinated. Louise Silverton, its director for midwifery, says in a statement: "Women must also be aware of the importance of having the seasonal flu vaccination as soon as they become pregnant."

PHE also encourages pregnant women to take up the flu vaccine from October. Dr Ramsey says: "You can have the flu vaccine safely at any stage of pregnancy, so don’t delay asking your midwife or GP about this vaccine if you’re pregnant in the autumn and winter months."

Reviewed on September 04, 2015

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