Number of whooping cough cases soar in UK - raising concerns about vaccine uptake

The number of whooping cough cases in the UK has soared - prompting health officials to raise concerns about vaccine uptake.

There were 553 new cases of the highly contagious infection in January, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

This compares with 858 cases for the whole of 2023.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes which can cause serious health problems.

Symptoms are similar to a cold at first but, after about a week, patients will get coughing bouts that last for a few minutes and are worse at night.

Young babies may also make a distinctive "whoop" or have difficulty breathing after coughing.

The condition spreads very easily but the UKHSA said case numbers fell during the pandemic due to reduced social mixing.

The increase in cases comes amid a steady decline in uptake of the vaccine against the infection in pregnant women and children, officials said.

Parents have been urged to check that their child is vaccinated against whooping cough and the UKHSA is reminding pregnant women to also get protected.

The vaccine is offered as part of the six-in-one jab when babies are eight, 12 and 16-weeks-old.

The number of two-year-olds who completed their six-in-one vaccinations as of September 2023 was 92.9%, compared with 96.3% in March 2014.

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Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: "Whooping cough can affect people of all ages but for very young infants, it can be particularly serious.

"However, vaccinating pregnant women is highly effective in protecting babies from birth until they can receive their own vaccines.

"Parents can also help protect their children by ensuring they receive their vaccines at the right time or catching up as soon as possible if they have missed any. If you're unsure, please check your child's red book or get in touch with your GP surgery."

Steve Russell, national director for vaccinations and screening at NHS England, said that people can contact their GP to book a vaccination appointment.

Those with symptoms should "ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111," he added.

People with whooping cough are advised to stay at home for 48 hours after starting antibiotics, or three weeks after symptoms start if they have not had antibiotics.