Haifa is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of children suffering from whooping cough, reports Yediot Haifa. In one elementary school in recent weeks, an entire classroom of children and all their teachers had to be vaccinated and to receive preventative antibiotic treatments against the highly infectious and potentially lethal bacterial illness. According to the report, Health Ministry figures show that Haifa has the highest incidence of whooping cough of any Israeli city. A senior doctor at Haifa's Bnai Zion hospital said 2,216 Israelis - 220 of them in Haifa - had been diagnosed with the disease in 2007, and four children had died of it. He said that already in the first quarter of 2008, 52 cases of whooping cough had been diagnosed in Haifa and he was concerned that there could be "an epidemic." Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that causes severe breathing difficulties. It can strike any age group but is particularly dangerous for babies. The Health Ministry routinely vaccinates young children against the disease, and recommends giving booster shots to children in second and in eighth grades. There is no vaccination available for adults. The Bnai Zion doctor said the World Health Organization had thought that with almost universal vaccination in Western societies, whooping cough was on the way to disappearing, but the belief that immunization provided lifelong protection was "mistaken" and the disease was actually on the rise once again. The doctor also said that some parents were reluctant to vaccinate their children for fear of side effects, but these parents "do not understand to what extent they are endangering their children." "The vaccine is effective for five to six years from the last dose," the doctor said. "The vaccine does prevent the disease but a person must continue to receive it." He said all children should receive the recommended vaccinations, and that adults who suspect they might have been exposed to the disease should see their doctors to receive preventative antibiotics.