Published Friday, 26 October 2012
Parents have been advised to vaccinate their children against whooping cough. (© Getty)
The disease causes intense bouts of coughing accompanied by a distinctive 'whoop' noise and it is usually very rare to be a cause of death among infants.
But Dr Richard Smithson from the Public Health Agency (PHA) said they are concerned that there have been 221 cases of whooping cough in Northern Ireland this year.
"So far this year which is the most we've seen in around 20 years so it's a very significant outbreak," he told UTV.
Whooping cough starts off like any cough or cold but children find it difficult to catch their breath and at that stage, Dr Smithson said, parents should seek advice from their GP.
A vaccination against the infection, which can prevent babies from catching whooping cough, is available, but infants under three months are too young to be protected by the vaccination.
"They do get very serious complications, many of them end up in hospital and unfortunately, a few of them also do die," explained Dr Smithson.
The PHA is encouraging pregnant women to get the jab to help prevent their abbies from catching whooping cough.
"These babies are too young to be vaccinated themselves, but by pregnant women getting the vaccine in the later stages of pregnancy, they can pass on the protective antibodies to their babies and protect them in the first couple of months of life when they are so vulnerable," added Dr Smithson.
© UTV News