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The number of cases of whooping cough, and deaths, among newborn babies in London has increased six-fold compared to last year.

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"“It’s vital that babies are protected from the day they are born – that’s why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women.”"

Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies

There were 350 confirmed cases in the capital in the first eight months of 2012, up from 54 in 2011, figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show.

As a result, chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has announced that pregnant women will be offered vaccinations from next week against the condition to protect their newborns.

Babies cannot normally be vaccinated until they are two months old.

The figures also revealed there were 302 reported cases of whooping cough among babies aged under 12 weeks in London.

Confirmed cases of whooping cough among infants in London

2008: 68

2009: 62

2010: 29

2011: 54

2012: 350

This was more than double the 115 cases reported in the same period in 2011.

Also known as pertussis, whooping cough can be a serious illness in very young children

Symptoms include severe coughing fits which, in babies and children, are accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound as the child gasps for breath after coughing.

Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications and death.

Dame Sally Davies said: “Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable.

“Nine infants have died as a result of whooping cough this year and there have been 302 cases of the disease in children under three months old.

“It’s vital that babies are protected from the day they are born – that’s why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women.”

The vaccine will be offered to pregnant women during routine antenatal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP.

Women previously immunised will be encouraged to be vaccinated again to boost their immunity.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, added: “It’s also important we continue to remind all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough to continue their protection through childhood.

“Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms – which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults.

“It is also advisable to keep their babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

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