Public Health Wales has urged pregnant women in Wales to make sure they have their vaccination against whooping cough, after seeing an increase in cases.

Whooping cough – also known as pertussis – is a potentially very serious infection that can cause severe illness and death in young children.

As of 20 October 2015, there had been 264 reports of whooping cough in Wales for the year to date, compared to 208 in the whole of 2014.

Of these, twelve cases were in infants aged under four months, and therefore too young to be fully protected by vaccination.

There have also been several recent hospitalisations in children under twelve months old whose mothers have not been vaccinated against whooping cough, and notifications of the infection are likely to increase further as winter approaches.

Although vaccination rates in children under twelve months in Wales are high, with 97 per cent being immunised, babies do not complete vaccination until four months of age. Babies younger than this can be protected by antibodies passed on from their mothers, which are boosted through immunisation during each pregnancy.

The whooping cough vaccine was introduced for pregnant women in Wales in the autumn of 2012 in order to increase this protection of young babies, but around three in ten women do not take up the offer of vaccination.

‘Newborn babies cannot start to be vaccinated against whooping cough until they are two months old,’ said Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme of Public Health Wales, ‘but are at risk of infection with an increased number of cases in the community this year.

‘Our current vaccination uptake rate in pregnant women is 69 per cent, which means that around three in every ten women remain unimmunised and can’t pass on any protection to their babies.’

Whooping cough vaccine is available to women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant and who should ideally seek to be vaccinated before the 32nd week of pregnancy.

Children with whooping cough will often appear to be suffering with a cold when they first become unwell, but the illness can develop into a bad cough that may cause them to gasp for breath and turn blue due to lack of oxygen.

More information on whooping cough is available from the Public Health Wales website at: