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4 November 2015

Epilepsy risk after whooping cough 'very low'

Epilepsy Society's medical director Professor Ley Sander has reassured parents that the chances of a child developing epilepsy following a bout of whooping cough is very low.

A new study, published in Denmark, has shown that children who were diagnosed with whooping cough or 'pertussis' in early childhood, seemed to have a slightly increased risk of developing epilepsy in later childhood.

The study was carried out by researchers at Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark and Stanford University Hospital, California. Scientists looked at 4,700 patients with whooping cough, 90 of whom went on to develop epilepsy.

The incidence of epilepsy by the age of 10 years was 1.7 per cent in comparison with 0.9 per cent for a group in the general population who did not have whooping cough but who had been matched by age and sex.

Lead researcher Dr Morten Olsen from Denmark said although the study revealed an increased risk of epilepsy among children admitted to hospital with whooping cough, the risk was still very low.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is an acute respiratory infection common in childhood. Intense coughing can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and even death.

Whooping cough vaccination was introduced in the UK in the 1950s when the number of reported cases of the infection was 120,000 annually. In 2014 there were 3,388 laboratory confirmed cases of whooping cough in England and Wales.

Professor Sander continued: 'The pertussis vaccination has done much to reduce the risk of whooping cough and accompanying complications. 

'If an infant has poorly controlled epilepsy, it is advised to deter the vaccination  until the condition has been stabilised. A history of family seizures should not deter a parent from having their child vaccinated. If the child has experienced febrile seizures following previous vaccinations, advice should be given to the parents about  seizure prevention and management.' 

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