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Last Updated: Monday, 10 March 2008, 18:41 GMT
Cases of whooping cough 'treble'
Vaccination
Babies are vaccinated against whooping cough
Cases of whooping cough have nearly trebled since 2003, according to figures from the Department of Health.

The number of reported incidents of the highly infectious disease had fallen dramatically, but this latest data suggests they are starting to climb.

The Department of Health said cases of whooping cough had always fluctuated.

But the Liberal Democrats, who obtained the figures, said they showed "public health schemes were failing to reach the people who need them most".

Other conditions are also on the rise, the figures suggest, including cholera, TB and typhoid.

Persistent cough

Babies, for whom whooping cough can be fatal, are immunised at two, three and four months, and again before they start school.

Before the vaccine was introduced in the 1950s England saw tens of thousands of cases each year, but this then rapidly fell to about 2,000 cases annually after the immunisation programme began.

But there have been blips: in 1991, for instance, there were nearly 5,000 cases, according to figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

In 2003, there were just 386 cases in England but provisional figures suggest there were as many as 1,071 in 2007.

During this period, uptake of the jab remained steady over the last few years - around 93% or 94% coverage between 2003 and 2007.

Recent research from the University of Oxford said that while immunisation is effective, doctors needed to be aware that protection did not last indefinitely.

A child with a persistent cough should be investigated for whooping cough, researchers warned, even if they had been fully immunised.

'Nonsense'

Levels of TB meanwhile have been increasing year on year in the UK since the late 1980s, and the latest available figures from 2006 showed the number of cases increased 17% from three years previously.

Whooping cough cases fluctuate on about a four year cycle, so there will always be highs and lows that are comparable with fluctuations in other countries
Department of Health

Cases of cholera have meanwhile dramatically risen by 52%, but from a very low base. There were 38 cases last year. Typhoid was up by 17% to 203 cases in 2007. Immunisation is not offered as standard for these diseases as they remain rare.

But the Liberal Democrats accused the NHS of "failing in its duty to prevent easily avoidable disease".

"People will be shocked to hear that diseases which belonged to a bygone era are making a comeback," said health spokesman Norman Lamb. "Prevention is often a case of simple vaccine."

Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Labour have pumped billions into the NHS but they haven't made it a priority to stop people getting ill in the first place.

"Now we're seeing the consequences, and illnesses that we thought were being wiped out are on the increase again."

But a spokesperson for the Department of Health said such allegations were "nonsense".

"These are relatively low numbers of cholera and typhoid. Cases are imported from abroad and may reflect greater travel or population movements.

"Whooping cough cases fluctuate on about a four year cycle, so there will always be highs and lows that are comparable with fluctuations in other countries.

"Furthermore, recent improvements in disease surveillance may have lead to an apparent increase in cases."



SEE ALSO
Q&A: Whooping cough
07 Jul 06 |  Health

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