THE number of cases of whooping cough in Suffolk soared last year, a new report has revealed.

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Figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show that confirmed cases of the illness, which is particularly dangerous for babies, went up from just four in 2011 to 174 in 2012.

And in January this year a further 16 cases were recorded.

Across the eastern region as a whole the figures showed a rise from 104 to 1,092 in just 12 months and there was a national record of 9,741 cases documented during what was described as a “sustained outbreak” by the HPA.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages but young infants are at highest risk of severe complications or even death as babies do not complete vaccination until they are around four months old.

Dr Daniel Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said there had been a successful push to raise awareness of the dangers of whooping cough and the benefits of immunisation in the second half of last year, the results of which were now being seen.

He said: “I don’t think anyone is quite sure exactly why the number of cases was on the rise. It’s unclear as to what had provoked that but the good thing is that particularly last autumn onwards the national campaign which was raising awareness about the risks and dangers of whooping cough has been shown to be successful.”

January’s 16 recorded cases of whooping cough in Suffolk went against a regional trend that had seen totals decline over the previous three months.

Regionally, the numbers showed a drop from October’s 215 to 164 in November, then 104 in December and 90 in January.

More encouraging news is that in the eastern region 59.7% of pregnant women expected to give birth in January opted to receive the whooping cough vaccination - a slight rise from 57.8% in December 2012.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said the January figures for the region showed a “welcome continued decrease” of whooping cough cases.

Dr Amirthalingam said: “However, it is very important to note that we usually see a reduction in cases of whooping cough at this time of year so this decrease is in line with normal seasonal patterns.

“It is very encouraging to see that 59.7% of pregnant women delivering in January in the east of England had accepted the offer of a vaccination against whooping cough. We would like to remind pregnant women how serious this infection can be in young babies and how it can in some cases cause death.

“The aim of vaccinating of women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy is to offer babies protection against whooping cough in the first few months of life, before they receive their own vaccines.”

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