CASES of whooping cough in Worcestershire this year are already six times higher than last year.

NHS Worcestershire has received 76 notifications of cases of whooping cough compared with 12 last year.

This follows a national trend which shows there were 1,230 cases of whooping cough in August alone in England and Wales, taking the number of cases so far this year from January to 4,791 – four times the annual number reported last year.

Whooping cough has so far killed nine babies under the age of three months in England.

Dr Ash Banerjee, public health consultant for NHS Worcestershire, said: “I hope people realise the fact that there has been nine deaths in babies, which brings matters home. This is quite similar to swine flu in severity.”

He has urged pregnant women to get vaccinated against whooping cough and flu to protect their babies’ lives.

Women in Worcestershire were offered the vaccine against whooping cough from Monday following the deaths.

Dr Banerjee urged women to make an appointment with their GP to get the flu jab immediately and make an appointment to be immunised against whooping cough if they are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant.

He said: “Although whooping cough and flu are both concerning, it’s very good that we have a simple way of preventing cases. We would urge all pregnant women to get themselves immunised. If they get immunised the vaccine protects the baby.”

If women have already given birth they can still protect their baby’s health by being immunised with some of the protection transferred to their baby through breast milk.

Being immunised also means they will be less likely to pass illness on to their child.

Dr Banerjee said pregnant women should not delay having the flu jab, which protects them against three strains of flu, including swine flu, until they can have the whooping cough jab.

Instead, they should have the flu jab first and then make a follow-up appointment for the whooping cough jab.

Those at greater risk from flu include people aged 65 or over, pregnant women, and those with health conditions such as severe asthma, chest or heart complaints and diabetes.

Dr Banerjee said: “If you’re pregnant, have lowered immunity or a long-term health condition such as severe asthma, a chest or heart complaint, or diabetes, then you should also get a free flu jab from your GP and get flu safe. The flu jab is completely safe, and it can’t give you flu.

“Flu can knock you off your feet. In the most serious cases, seasonal flu might land you in hospital – it can even be a killer.”