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Whooping Cough Deaths: Mum Tells Of Heartache

The parents of a baby who died from whooping cough have told of their heartache amid the biggest outbreak of the disease in 20 years.

Jon and Helen Parsons spoke out as health officials revealed that three babies had died in October.

The total number of babies under the age of three months who have died as a result of the infectious disease this year now stands at 13, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

The number of confirmed cases in England and Wales this year is now 7,728.

The HPA said 1,614 cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales in October. In 2011, the total number of cases was 819.

In a move to combat the outbreak, health officials recently announced that all pregnant women are to be vaccinated against the infection.

Jon Parsons, whose daughter died of the disease recently aged seven weeks, said he agreed with the vaccination scheme.

"I came home from work one night and she was not feeding at all," Mr Parsons told Sky News.

"We decided to go to the doctor's the next day because we were bothered about her being dehydrated.

"Over the next few days she went steadily downhill, until three weeks later unfortunately she passed away."

Jon's wife Helen, who is now pregnant again, said the benefits of having the vaccination far outweighed the risks.

"It never crossed my mind that she would get something like that - it's an old-fashioned disease," Mrs Parsons said.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government's principal medical adviser, said mothers-to-be will be offered the vaccination to protect their newborn babies.

Youngsters cannot receive the jab until they are two months old. Vaccinating their mothers before they are born will boost their immunity until they reach the age when they can have the injection themselves, she said.

Women across the UK who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant are being offered the vaccination.

Increases in whooping cough are usually seen every three to four years. The last rise in the number of confirmed cases was recorded in 2008.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said: "We strongly recommend all pregnant women take up the offer of vaccination."

In the very young, whooping cough can be a serious illness and can lead to death in some cases.

Babies and children can often make a distressing "whoop" sound while gasping for air after a coughing fit.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: "Whooping cough is highly contagious and infants are particularly vulnerable."

He said there had been nearly 400 cases of the disease in children under three months old this year.