Whooping cough spike as cases surge in Cornwall

Whooping cough can sometimes be very serious (Alamy/PA)
Whooping cough can sometimes be very serious -Credit:Alamy/PA

A new map shows a massive recent spike as the number of suspected cases of whooping cough diagnosed in Cornwall is rising faster than at any time so far this year. The figures have emerged after it was revealed five babies had died as infections of the “100 day cough” continue to spread.
New figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show 1,319 lab-confirmed cases in England in March. That follows 556 cases in January and 918 in February, bringing the total to 2,793 in 2024.
By this time last year there had been just 30 lab-confirmed cases. Tragically, the UKHSA has now confirmed that five infants - who are most at risk of severe complications - died in the first quarter of the year, between January and March.

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While the UKHSA has not released data showing the locations where outbreaks have been confirmed, it is possible to map notifications of whooping cough. These are alerts that GPs are required to send to the UKHSA every time they diagnose a case of what they believe to be whooping cough.
So far this year - up to the week ending April 21 - GPs had diagnosed 26 suspected cases in Cornwall, including three in the latest week. This means the infection has been spreading more rapidly as there were only three cases as of mid-February, which remained the same for the subsequent month or more.

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More worryingly, there appears to have been a massive spike in new infections in recent weeks. The weekly figure jumped from a maximum of four - after showing just one new case a week for most of the year so far - to 11.

New infections in Cornwall this year

Week ending

Whooping cough

January 21, 2024


January 28, 2024


February 4, 2024


March 17, 2024


March 24, 2024


March 31, 2024


April 7, 2024


April 14, 2024


April 21, 2024


Neighbouring Devon has had more than twice as many suspected cases, with 66 so far this year and 16 in the last week.
You can see the suspected cases in Cornwall compared to other areas with our interactive map.

Cases have been rising in England due to a “combination” of factors, including the cyclical nature of the disease and the impact and isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to reduced immunity in the population.
Vaccine uptake has also fallen in recent years.

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Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for the UKHSA, said: “Vaccination remains the best defence against whooping cough and it is vital that pregnant women and young infants receive their vaccines at the right time.
“Pregnant women are offered a whooping cough vaccine in every pregnancy, ideally between 20 and 32 weeks. This passes protection to their baby in the womb so that they are protected from birth in the first months of their life when they are most vulnerable and before they can receive their own vaccines.
“All babies are given three doses of the 6-in-1 jab at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age to protect against whooping cough and other serious diseases such as diphtheria and polio with a pre-school booster offered at 3 years 4 months.
“Whooping cough can affect people of all ages but for very young babies it can be extremely serious. Our thoughts and condolences are with those families who have so tragically lost their baby.”

Four in 10 expectant mothers do not take the maternal pertussis vaccination, while about one in 12 infants do not receive the 6-in-1 jab by their first birthday.
Whooping cough - clinically known as pertussis, but sometimes known as the “100 day cough” due to the length of time it takes to shake it off - is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It spreads very easily and can sometimes cause serious problems.
While around half of cases confirmed in England up to March this year were in teenagers and adults aged 15 and over (51 per cent, or 1,420 cases), 108 were seen in babies under the age of three months who are most at risk of severe illness and too young to be fully vaccinated. That is more than double the number of cases across the whole of last year in infants of that age (48).
NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “With cases of whooping cough continuing to rise sharply across the country, and today’s figures sadly showing five infant deaths, it is vital that families come forward to get the protection they need.
“If you are pregnant and have not been vaccinated yet, or your child is not up-to-date with whooping cough or other routine vaccinations, please contact your GP as soon as possible, and if you or your child show symptoms ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111.”