PARENTS have been urged to vaccinate children after an outbreak of whooping cough claimed the lives of two babies.
Whooping cough cases have surged by almost 74pc this year, with babies under six months most likely to be hospitalised.
Two babies have already died from the condition and 125 children have been hospitalised in the first 10 months of this year.
Parents are being warned by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre to vaccinate children as early as possible.
Figures from the HPSC show that 398 cases of whooping cough have been notified so far this year, compared to 229 for the whole of 2011.
The biggest group -- 131 cases -- was for babies under six months of age and the increase in the infection has been reported right across the country.
Although the uptake of whooping cough vaccination has reached 91pc nationally for children under 12 months and 95pc for those under two years, the HPSC is urging parents to make sure babies are vaccinated as early as possible.
The vaccination schedule is an injection at two, four and six months with a booster dose at 4-5 years of age.
But by 12 months about one in 10 children have still not received the recommended number of doses.
A scheme is also being rolled out over the next year to give booster doses to all school children aged between 11 and 14.
The HPSC says the current surge in whooping cough cases is of "serious concern".
Dr Suzanne Cotter of the centre stresses that "even one dose of the vaccine will start to protect babies. We are reminding parents to make sure their children are up to date.
"Parents may wonder what difference waiting a couple of weeks will make, but it could make a big difference to the health of their babies."
Outbreaks have also been reported in the UK and other countries. Experts are unclear as to the exact reason for the resurgence of whooping cough.