Scotland | Increased levels of pertussis circulating across the country

Edinburgh | 28 April 2012

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) has noted an increase in reports of pertussis (or whooping cough) in 2012. Up to 19 April, HPS had received 150 reports of laboratory confirmed cases, compared to 22 in the same period in 2011. HPS is working with boards across NHSScotland and our counterparts across the UK to manage this increase in cases.

This is consistent with a rise in whooping cough across England and Wales (see Health Protection Report, 13 April 2012 at, and also with the generally cyclical nature of whooping cough in the community. Cases of whooping cough tend to increase every three or four years, although the number of cases in Scotland this year exceeds the number reported in the last peak year (2008).

Young infants are most severely affected by this highly contagious infection and are more likely to develop complications, which can require hospital treatment. Adults and older children may have milder symptoms and are less likely to make the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound. Very young infants also may not make the ‘whoop’ sound after coughing, but bouts of coughing can be followed by difficulty breathing.

Early symptoms of whooping cough are much like an ordinary cold and may include a blocked or runny nose; sneezing; watering eyes; a dry, irritating cough; sore throat; slightly raised temperature and feeling generally unwell. These early symptoms can last for one to two weeks and then progress to bouts of coughing which may be followed by vomiting. A ‘whoop’ sound may be heard at the end of the bout of coughing, though this is not always present.

While whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics, vaccination is the most effective way to prevent spread of the disease. Children are offered pertussis vaccine as part of the ‘5 in 1′ vaccine at two, three and four months of age as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme, which also protects against diphtheria, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and tetanus. A booster dose of vaccine is given when children are around three years and four months old.

Parents are encouraged to ensure their children are up to date with their routine vaccination schedule to protect themselves and others who they come into contact with, especially younger children. Uptake of this schedule remains high in Scotland, at over 95%. [Source: HPS News Release, 19 April 2012.]

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