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Whooping cough rises sharply in UK and Europe

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: (Published 02 April 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q736
  1. Elizabeth Smout, public health specialist registrar1,
  2. Dominic Mellon, regional deputy director for health protection (south west),,
  3. Maggie Rae, president of epidemiological and public health section3
  1. 1South West Regional Public Health Training Programme, UK  
  2. 2UK Health Security Agency, London, UK
  3. 3Royal Society of Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: M Rae

Increasing vaccine uptake is critical to controlling pertussis outbreaks

Pertussis incidence is high and climbing in the UK. In January 2024, there were 553 cases in England compared with 858 cases for the whole of 2023. The largest previous pertussis outbreak in recent years was in 2012, when cases were at their highest level in two decades. At this stage, it is difficult to tell how the current rise in pertussis activity will play out over the coming months.

Pertussis is highly contagious. Up to 90% of household contacts become infected, although harms occur predominantly in young infants, who are too young to be fully vaccinated and are at the highest risk of severe complications.1 Roughly 4% of confirmed cases in January were in infants under the age of 3 months, although most people affected have been over 15 years old.2

The rise in pertussis infections has been replicated across many European countries. It is thought to be …

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