Whooping cough: Cases up again as five infant deaths reported

  • By Nick Triggle
  • Health correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

Five babies have died from whooping cough as cases continue to rise in England, health officials have said.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reported 1,319 cases in England in March, following just over 900 in February, bringing the 2024 total to almost 2,800.

He fears this will be a bumper year for bacterial infection. The last record year, 2016, saw 5,949 cases in England.

The infection can be particularly serious for babies and infants.

Half of the cases seen so far this year have been in children under 15, with the highest rates in babies under three months.

The five babies who died this year were all less than three months old.

Known as whooping cough or “100-day cough,” the infection is a cyclical illness with peaks seen every three to five years.

The UKHSA said a steady decline in vaccine uptake among pregnant women and children and very low numbers seen during the pandemic, as has happened with other infections due to restrictions and behavior of the public, were two factors.

The agency said a record year was therefore expected and urged families to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.

“Extremely serious”

In September 2023, the number of two-year-olds who completed their routine six-in-one vaccination, which includes protection against whooping cough, was 92.9%, compared to 96.3% in March 2014.

The rate of maternal whooping cough vaccination, offered to women during each pregnancy, has also fallen, from more than 70% in September 2017 to around 58% in September 2023.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, from the UKHSA, said: “Vaccination remains the best defense against whooping cough and it is essential that pregnant women and young infants receive their vaccines at the right time.

“Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but for very young babies it can be extremely serious.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with the families who so tragically lost their baby.”

The first signs of whooping cough are similar to a cold, with a runny nose and sore throat.

But after about a week, the infection can turn into coughing fits that last a few minutes and usually get worse at night.

Young babies may also make a distinctive “cry” or have difficulty breathing after a coughing fit.

The bacteria is spread through coughs and sneezes, so experts advise members of a household in which it has been diagnosed to stay home until three weeks after symptoms start, or 48 hours after that the patient started taking antibiotics.

News Source :
Gn Health

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