Regional News

Whooping cough cases continue to rise


New data published today by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows cases of whooping cough continue to increase with 1,319 cases confirmed in March in England. This follows 556 cases in January and 918 in February, bringing the total number of cases in 2024 to 2,793.

Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications and death from whooping cough. Updated estimates of vaccine effectiveness in pregnancy shows high levels of protection (92%) against infant death.

During this quarter, while most cases (50.8%, 1420) were in those aged 15 years or older who usually get a mild illness, the rates of whooping cough remain highest in babies under 3months of age.

Whooping cough cases have been rising across England, as well as in many other countries, since December 2023 due to a combination of factors. Whooping cough is a cyclical disease that peaks every 3-5 years. The last cyclical increase occurred in 2016. However, in common with other diseases, cases fell to very low numbers during the pandemic due to restrictions and public behaviours. A peak year is therefore overdue. The impact of the pandemic also means there is reduced immunity in the population.

Uptake of vaccinations that protect against whooping cough have fallen in recent years across the country – in both the programme for pregnant women and the infant programme. Timely vaccination in pregnancy and in infancy are both important to protect vulnerable young babies from serious disease.

Hayley Mercer, Consultant in Health Protection for UKHSA North West, said:


“Vaccination remains the best defence against whooping cough. It is vital that during pregnancy, you are vaccinated against whooping cough before your baby is born. This will protect your newborn baby from becoming unwell and needing hospital care. It is then extremely important that your baby has all their vaccines on time to get the best protection against infectious diseases.

“Whooping cough can affect people of all ages but for very young babies, it can be particularly serious. This is why vaccinating pregnant women is highly effective in protecting babies from birth until they can receive their own vaccines.

“Cases of suspected whooping cough have increased recently in the North West and parents can also help protect their children by remaining vigilant for signs and symptoms of whooping cough. Check that all your children’s vaccinations are up to date. If you’re unsure, please check your child’s red book or get in touch with your GP surgery, it is never too late to be vaccinated.”

Tricia Spedding, Deputy Head of Public Health for NHS England – North West, said:


“Mums-to-be are offered the pertussis vaccine in pregnancy, giving their baby protection against whooping cough from birth until they are old enough to be vaccinated themselves from 8 weeks’ old.

“Whooping cough can be a very serious illness in young babies, so if you are pregnant and have not been vaccinated, or if your child hasn’t yet had the 6-in-1 combination vaccine, please contact your GP surgery to book an appointment.”

Whooping cough, clinically known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection which affects the lungs. The first signs of infection are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and sore throat, but after about a week, the

infection can develop into coughing bouts that last for a few minutes and are typically worse at night. Young babies may also make a distinctive “whoop” or have difficulty breathing after a bout of coughing, though not all babies make this noise which means whooping cough can be hard to recognise.

If anyone in your family is diagnosed with whooping cough, it’s important they stay at home and do not go into work, school or nursery until 48 hours after starting antibiotics, or 3 weeks after symptoms start if they have not had antibiotics. This helps to prevent the spread of infection, especially to vulnerable groups, including infants. However, vaccination remains the best protection for babies and children.

Content provided by NHS Cheshire and Merseyside.

Published on Thu, 09 May 2024 15:00:00 GMT
Modified on Thu, 09 May 2024 15:34:54 GMT