EXPERTS say a dramatic drop in the number of whooping cough cases amongst newborns in Scotland supports the need to continue to provide vaccinations for pregnant women.

Research headed by Dr Alison Smith-Palmer of Health Protection Scotland shows that the number of confirmed whooping cough cases in infants aged under one year had dropped from 140 in 2012 to just 19 in 2013.

Since October 2012, vaccination against whooping cough has been recommended for all pregnant women in the UK to reduce cases in newborns, the group most vulnerable to complications and death.

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A whooping cough outbreak hit the UK in 2012, leaving infants at risk due to the small size of their lungs. In England and Wales more than 10 babies died.

Experts advised both the Scottish and Westminster governments to offer pregnant women the vaccine in the autumn of 2012 in order to give newborn infants some protection against the germ until they are old enough to be immunised.

Dr Smith-Palmer, whose findings are to be presented to the annual meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases today, believes lives have been saved due to the vaccination programme.

She said: "The reduction of around 85 per cent in incidence among infants is an indication of the effectiveness of vaccinating pregnant women for reducing disease in those most susceptible to complications.

"This highlights the importance of pregnant women continuing to receive the vaccine as whooping cough persists at high levels in the community."

Researchers also found that vaccine uptake among pregnant women was high at 78 per cent in 2013.

During 2012, 1926 laboratory confirmed cases of whooping cough in Scotland were reported to Health Protection Scotland, a 16-fold increase compared to the 119 reports in 2011.

The study shows that in 2013, incidence remained high with 1188 confirmed cases.

Whooping cough begins when a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis infects the lining of the airways and causes mucus to build. The mucus then triggers intense bouts of coughing.