Whooping cough endemic among schoolchildrenIllness far more widespread than was thought

07 July 2006

 

A stethoscope held by a doctor

Whooping cough is 'endemic' among UK schoolchildren even though most have been immunised, health experts revealed today.

A study found that more than 37 per cent of children who visited their doctor with a persistent cough had evidence of a recent whooping cough infection.

But almost 86 per cent of them had been vaccinated, said the study published online in the British Medical Journal.

The findings suggest the condition is 'endemic among younger school-age children' and doctors should consider a diagnosis of whooping cough even if the child has been immunised.

The study involved 172 children aged five to 16 who visited their family doctor with a cough lasting 14 days or more.

Persistent cough

The study authors said that, despite the fact many children with a persistent cough appear to have the condition, 'general practitioners rarely diagnose and notify whooping cough in this age group.'

The authors concluded: 'For school-age children presenting to primary care with a cough lasting two weeks or more, a diagnosis of whooping cough should be considered even if the child has been immunised.'

The number of cases of whooping cough have fallen substantially over the past 20 years across all age groups, according to figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

But there has recently been an increase in the number of younger children diagnosed with the condition.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: 'It is so important that children are vaccinated against this serious disease at two, three and four months, and that they receive their pre-school booster as the disease is most serious in young children.

Effective vaccine

'The disease tends to be less severe in older children and adults. Very few children in this study will have benefited from the pre-school booster that was introduced by the government in 2001. The vaccine is very effective, especially in protecting against severe disease.'