Whooping cough epidemic sweeps Europe


European countries have reported a surge in whooping cough cases in 2023 and the first quarter of 2024, with 10 times as many identified as in each of the previous two years.

In total, nearly 60,000 cases were reported by European Union and European Economic Area countries over the period, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said on Wednesday, with 11 deaths in infants and eight among older adults.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the lungs and airways, and is endemic in Europe. It can be very dangerous for young babies or older people.

Bigger whooping cough epidemics are expected every 3-5 years even in countries with high vaccination rates, the ECDC said, although a slight dip in immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic may have been a factor in the rise. Circulation of whooping cough was also very low during the pandemic and its related restrictions on movement, making the rise seem larger.

The numbers are still historically high, though. In the first three months of 2024, there have already been as many cases as there were in an average year between 2012 and 2019.

The agency noted that much of the population had missed out on natural boosting of their immunity to whooping cough because they had not been exposed to it during the pandemic.

Babies under six months are at particular risk from the infection.

"It's essential to remember the lives at stake, especially our little ones. Vaccines against pertussis have proven to be safe and effective," said ECDC Director Andrea Ammon.

Most European countries routinely immunise children against pertussis and many also vaccinate pregnant women to protect their babies. The ECDC said some countries may want to consider giving boosters to older children and adults too, as immunity can wane.

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