A YOUNG mum who almost lost her newborn baby to whooping cough is urging others to be extra vigilant as the number of cases dramatically soar.
Health officials say there has been a massive increase in cases of the illness so far this year, resulting in the deaths of five babies.
Ella Mae Irving from Washington could easily have been one of those to die if it hadn’t been for the quick-thinking actions of her mum Ashley Witson who was just 17 at the time.
Just days after being in intensive care with whooping cough, Ella Mae began coughing so much she changed colour and stopped breathing.
Ashley performed mouth-to-mouth on her seven-week-old daughter, until her chest finally started to move again.
Now, a healthy seven-month-old, Ella Mae is firmly on the road to recovery, but for Ashley, now 18, the drama is still fresh in her mind.
She said the increase in the number of cases of whooping cough – from 311 for the first six months of 2011 to 2,466 for the same period in 2012 – is frightening.
The Station Road mum, said: “We are so, so lucky that we still have Ella Mae. I knew there was a chance I could lose her, but instinct just took over.
“It was lucky that I knew what to do, but other people might not.”
The college student said her daughter was too young to have been vaccinated against whooping cough when she first became ill at four weeks old. However, she now has been and Ashley would encourage any parent to have their child vaccinated as soon as possible.
The former Oxclose School pupil, said: “I don’t think people realise how serious it can be. I didn’t know anything about it, but, it’s a scary thing and I wouldn’t want other people to go through it.
“I would also say to people to take any coughs seriously and take their child to the doctor.”
The Health Protection Agency said as well as the outbreak of whooping cough in England and Wales there have also been increased levels of the illness reported in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Of the 2,466 cases so far this year across England and Wales, 111 were reported in the North East, with the highest amount, 514, in the South East.
Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at the Health Protection Agency, said: “Whooping cough can be a very serious illness, especially in the very young.
“Anyone showing 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 and adults, should visit their GP.”
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and airways, the medical term is pertussis.
The condition usually begins with a persistent dry and irritating cough, which progresses to intense bouts of coughing, followed by a distinctive ‘whooping’ noise.
Other symptoms include a runny nose, raised temperature and vomiting after coughing and the coughing can last for around three months.
Whooping cough can be treated successfully with antibiotics and most people make a full recovery.
It mostly affects infants, who are at highest risk of complications and even death.
In the UK, the whooping cough vaccine is given to babies after two, three and four months. A booster dose is given just before primary school.
The Department of Health’s Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation is considering ways to tackle the current outbreak, such as giving teenagers or pregnant women a booster jab.
Vaccinations for medics working with young babies have already been recommended to protect them and prevent them from spreading the infection.