Whooping cough cases double in just a year
THE numbers of children diagnosed with whooping cough doubled last year, new figures have revealed.
There were 229 recorded cases of the cough -- known for its hacking sound -- reported last year, compared to 114 in 2010.
Although more older children were struck with the disease last year, most cases were in the under-fives, particularly among infants who were not old enough to have completed the full three doses of the whooping cough vaccine.
Whooping cough, which is highly infectious, tends to be most severe in young babies and in rare cases it can be fatal.
The whooping cough vaccine is given as part of the five-in-one vaccine that also protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio and Hib (haemophilus influenzae type b).
The vaccine is given routinely in early childhood, with booster doses recommended at four to five years of age and again at 11-14 years of age to provide protection later.
Since the vaccine was introduced in the early-1950s incidence of the disease has declined, but there was an upsurge in the late-1970s and 1980s as immunisation coverage fell.
"The recent resurgence of whooping cough despite high levels of vaccination in young children is a cause for concern," the Health Protection Surveillance Centre report said, adding that untreated patients may be contagious for three weeks or more following the onset of typical coughing attacks.
For many older children and adults it is a less severe cough than that of the young child and will often go undiagnosed until passed on to a youngster.
It said that in recent years, primary vaccination coverage -- by two years of age -- had improved markedly.
The most recent data indicates that 96pc of children at 24 months of age had already received three doses of pertussis vaccine. However, despite this improvement, notifications have increased since 2009.
Of the 229 cases notified last year 135 were female. The reason for this is unclear but the trend has also been seen abroad.
The report said the laboratory confirmation of disease was most common in the children in the youngest age groups.
"This reflects the management of children with severe disease who frequently require hospital admission where appropriate samples are taken and sent to the laboratory for diagnostic testing."
The increased availability of advanced testing in Ireland, notably in one of the major Dublin paediatric hospitals, may have contributed to this increase in notifications in this age group.
For older age groups, even when cases do present to the GP, the GP may not diagnose whooping cough and would rarely send samples for diagnostic testing.
"With the changing epidemiology there is recognition that we need to improve our surveillance of pertussis," it said.
Overall, there is a lack of whooping cough diagnostic testing capacity in Ireland.