RCPCH responds to rise in whooping cough cases

Data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows cases of whooping cough continue to increase with 1,319 cases confirmed in March.
Icon: Exclamation mark in triangle

Update, June 2024 - We have published a joint statement with RCOG, RCM and RCGP, including an information poster to display in a heath setting.

This follows 556 cases in January and 918 in February, bringing the total number of cases in 2024 to 2,793. Sadly, in the first quarter of 2024 (January - March), there have been five infant deaths. 

There have also been increases in notifications of whooping cough across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland since the beginning of 2024. In May 2024 cases in Scotland and Northern Ireland sat at 2,232 and respectively 916. In Wales within a four-week period from March 4 there were 315 cases. This included 122 cases in a single week.

RCPCH Officer for Health Improvement, Dr Helen Stewart said:  

Whooping cough is a cyclical disease, with spikes occurring every 3-5 years, however at this time we are seeing quite high numbers of cases. Some of this is a result of very low levels of disease during the pandemic, when public health measures brought in reduced rates of many other infections. However, we also know that maternal vaccination rates are far too low, no doubt adding to this current spike. 

Although an unpleasant disease at any age, its most serious in very young babies. As the routine vaccine schedule for England starts at 8 weeks with doses at 12 and 26 weeks, this is too late to give babies protection in the early, crucial months. Vaccination for pregnant women was introduced in 2012 in response to a large outbreak and baby deaths. The vaccination programme is very safe and highly effective.  

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. 

RCPCH Immunisation Expert, Professor Helen Bedford, said: 

Vaccine uptake among pregnant women has declined in recent years by about 15% since 2016/17 and is extremely low in some areas. Most notable is London where, in some boroughs, only a quarter of pregnant women have had the vaccine. In addition, there has been a small decline in uptake of childhood pertussis vaccine over the past 10 years.  

It cannot be emphasised enough that vaccination is the only effective means to protect young babies and children from whooping cough. Recent increases in infections and the deaths of five young babies in 2024 are the tragic reminders of how serious this disease can be. 

Healthcare professionals can find further information and guidance on the management of pertussis and immunisations via: 

For paediatricians RCPCH will be bringing together additional informational resources to support you, patients and their families shortly.  

Notes to Editors 

  1. Notifications for whooping cough have increased in Scotland since the beginning of 2024. Data from Public Health Scotland (PHS) shows there were 2,232 laboratory-confirmed pertussis cases in Scotland, as of 13 May 2024. This is compared to 198 cases reported in 2020 and 746 in 2019. Similar to England, there was a decline in cases in 2022 and 2021 where there were 3 and 4 cases of pertussis reported respectively.   
  2. Notifications of whooping cough have increased in Wales since the beginning of 2024. Public Health Wales (PHW) figures show there were 55 reported cases of whooping cough in 2021, 55 in 2022, and 199 in 2023. However, in the four weeks from March 4 there were 315 cases. This included 122 cases in a single week, starting March 11 which is more than 2021 and 2022 combined. More recently there were 131 notifications of whooping cough reported in the week starting the 13 April. 
  3. Notifications of whooping cough have increased in Northern Ireland since the beginning of 2024. From 01 January 2024 to 12 May, 1157 clinically suspected pertussis cases have been notified to the Public Health Agency, of those notified during 2024 to 12 May, 916 were laboratory confirmed. Prior to this, there were just 2 cases of whooping cough verified between 2021 and 2023, and during 2019 - 2020, there were 221 confirmed cases.