Recent increase in cases of whooping cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It spreads very easily and can sometimes cause serious problems. It’s important for babies and children to get vaccinated against it.

Check if you or your child has whooping cough

Implications & Recommendations for the NHS

Increasing rates of pertussis will place additional burden on the NHS, especially primary care providers. Pertussis can affect people of all ages and while it can be a very unpleasant illness for older vaccinated adolescents and adults, infants who are too young to be fully protected through vaccination are at greatest risk of serious complications or, rarely, death. A large majority of infants who development symptoms of pertussis will require hospitalisation.

Women in pregnancy will typically be offered a pertussis-containing vaccination between 20 and 32 weeks’ gestation but can receive it as early as week 16. They should be vaccinated in each pregnancy. General Practices remain the core providers for this vaccination programme.

Vaccination against pertussis through the routine programme is offered at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age with a booster offered preschool, in primary care settings. This offers direct protection to infants and children against severe outcomes from pertussis.

Information from UKHSA

Pertussis case numbers in England continue to rise across all regions in 2024. Provisionally, 555 cases were laboratory-confirmed in January, 920 cases in February, 1,430 cases in March and 1,888 in April 2024.

Of the 4,793 laboratory-confirmed cases reported in 2024 to end April, around half (2,452 cases, 51.2%) were in individuals aged 15 years or older, and 26.3% were in children aged between 10 and 14 years (1,260 cases).

Importantly, incidence in highest in infants under the age of 3 months, with 181 laboratory-confirmed cases identified between January and April 2024. This is of particular concern since these infants are at greatest risk of severe disease and are too young to benefit from complete vaccination.

From January to April 2024, 8 deaths were reported in infants who developed pertussis in England. Since the introduction of pertussis vaccination in pregnancy, from 2013 to the end of April 2024, there have been 29 deaths in total among infants with confirmed pertussis who were all too young to be fully protected by infant vaccination. Of the 29 infants that died, 23 had mothers who were not vaccinated at any point in pregnancy.