HAMPSHIRE parents are being warned of the dangers of a potentially fatal illness after the numbers of cases have soared by more than 4,000 per cent.

Latest figures have revealed that 126 cases of whooping cough have been confirmed so far this year across the county and the Isle of Wight – compared to just three in the whole of 2011.

Worryingly for mums and dads nine of these were in babies under the age of 12 months, when the cough can be fatal.

The sudden surge has left health chiefs urging parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against the infection as well as looking to take new steps to tackle any further increase.

The figures show that 107 cases were reported in Hampshire during the past six months, compared to just three in the whole of 2011, while there were ten in Southampton between January and June this year, compared to no cases in 2001.

The increase mirrors a national trend that has sparked concern and led to the Health Protection Agency and the Department of Health working together to stem the problem, with plans to introduce a booster dose in teenagers and offering the vaccination to pregnant women.

So far this year there have been five infant deaths related to the infection, compared to four in the same period in 2008, but health chiefs have refused to say where these deaths occurred.

Babies and young children who contract the illness often need hospital treatment.

Public health boss Dr Andrew Mortimore said: “Whooping cough affects all ages but this ongoing increase has extended to very young babies. It’s this age group that is most likely to suffer severe complications or even death.

“Whooping cough can spread easily to those who are in close contact such as family members.

Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from the infection, so it’s really important that parents ensure their children’s vaccinations are up to date.”

The whooping cough vaccine is given in three separate jabs and a booster so that a child’s body has time to build up an effective level of protection. However its effectiveness may fade over time meaning that it is possible to develop the condition during adulthood.

Health bosses say that whooping cough is a cyclical disease, with increases every three to four years, but during the last peak in 2008, the total number of cases reached just 13.

Dr Mortimore added: “Anyone showing symptoms of whooping cough should visit their GP, who may prescribe antibiotics if they are still in the infectious stage.”