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Whooping cough warning for pregnant women

08 September 2016

Pregnant women in Jersey are being urged to have the whooping cough vaccine to protect their new born babies from infection as there’s been an increase in cases and deaths of babies in the UK.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly infectious, serious illness that can lead to pneumonia and brain damage, particularly in young babies. Most babies with whooping cough will need hospital treatment, and the most severe cases can end in death.

The Health and Social Services department is urging pregnant women to get the vaccine from their GP between the 20th and 32nd week of pregnancy – ideally at around 20 weeks, after their scan.

The vaccine (brand name Boostrix-IPV) is safe in pregnancy.  Having the vaccine while pregnant means the mother-to-be passes protective antibodies to her unborn baby. It is these antibodies that help protect the baby during his/her first few months of life – until they have completed their own vaccination course which is given at 2, 3 and 4 months of age.

Dr Linda Diggle, Head of Preventive Programmes is leading the whooping cough vaccination programme for pregnant women. She said “Many people may have thought that whooping cough had disappeared, but in 2012 it increased substantially in the UK with Public Health England declaring a national outbreak and recommending pregnant women get vaccinated in order to protect their baby. Since October 2012 in England, of 16 babies aged under 3 months who have died of whooping cough, 14 were born to mothers who had not been immunised during pregnancy. Between January and March 2016, the number of confirmed whooping cough cases in England amongst babies under 3 months of age was double that for the same period in 2015.”

No herd immunity

Dr Diggle added “There is no herd immunity to whooping cough in the general population so we must assume whooping cough will be circulating in Jersey, as it is the UK, and that every new born baby could be at risk from this disease.”

Dr Mark Wilbourn from Island Medical Centre said “As GPs, we can’t stress enough the importance of the whooping cough vaccine for mothers-to-be during each and every pregnancy. It’s just one injection in the arm, but it could make a life or death difference for a young baby. It’s the first few months of babies’ lives when they are particularly vulnerable to this disease. Once you’ve had a 20-week scan, the next important step is to arrange with your GP surgery to get vaccinated. If for any reason a pregnant woman has missed having the vaccine, it can still be given up until the time she goes into labour.”

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