Pertussis (whooping cough) is a respiratory infection characterised by a paroxysmal cough caused by the Gram-negative organism Bordetella pertussis. There has been a recent rise in the number of confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales reported to the Health Protection Agency) with a total of 2,466 cases reported to the end of June 2012, compared with 1,118 cases in 2011.1 The greatest numbers of cases are in adolescents and young adults but the highest rates are in infants age less than three months.1
There has been some clustering of cases in schools and healthcare settings, highlighting the need to ensure infants receive immunisations in an appropriate timeframe to ensure protection at the earliest opportunity:186 cases were reported to the end of June 2012 in infants under three months, including five deaths.1 Young unvaccinated infants are at highest risk of severe complications such as pneumonia, apnoea and seizures.2
Protection conferred through natural infection or vaccination is not life-long. The UK childhood immunisation schedule comprises three primary infant doses of pertussis containing vaccine at two, three and four months of age and a pre-school booster dose between three years four months and five years of age.