13 infants have died of whooping cough in the UK between January 1st and October 31st, 2012, preliminary data from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) shows, nearly doubling the number of fatalities from all of 2011. No deaths have been recorded in November, although an additional 1,080 confirmed cases of infections were recorded bringing the total number of laboratory confirmed cases in the UK and Wales to 8,819 for the calendar year 2012 (through November). The real incidence number is very likely to be higher, especially keeping in mind that data for December is not yet available.
The number of fatalities is worrying considering that we have to go back 30 years, to 1982 to find the last year in which double digits fatalities from whooping cough were recorded in the UK and Wales. The 2012 outbreak has already registered a 5-10 fold increase in number of cases as compared to any year between 2000-2011 (although an increase in the number of confirmed cases has been attributed to better diagnostics and increased awareness starting roughly in 2006), mirroring a troublesome trend of increased pertussis incidence experienced by other countries as well.
It is important to note that of the 8,819 cases in 2012, the vast majority (7,283) was in the age group 15+; this is the age group which is most at risk for catching the disease, since it appears that the pertussis vaccines wanes considerably by this time. There have been many recomendation by health authorities to add booster shots for kids around this age, as well as adults, especially soon-to-be parents/grandparents, as they can keep the disease circulating and increasing the chances of infection for infants.
Therefore, if you are about to become a parent/grandparent, or if you have friends and family members who are, consider talking to your doctor about the adult whooping cough booster shot (Tdap). It’s a half a second of minimal pain to you that can have an immense protective effect on your child or grandchild.