Whooping cough outbreak reported around the world

Weakening of DTP vaccine’s long-term effects, outdoor air pollution and bacterial mutation being pointed out as plausible reasons for outbreak

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 18 April 2024

Whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory illness also known as ‘pertussis’, is making a concerning comeback across the globe. It is more common among young children and babies and can even prove to be fatal. The infection, caused by the bacteria bordetella pertussis, is difficult to detect early and mainly spreads through respiratory droplets.

Outbreaks are being reported in numerous countries including China, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom. China has reported a more than 20-fold increase in whooping cough cases in January and February, compared to the same period last year.

After confirming 32,380 cases and 13 deaths, Chinese authorities warned that it is a major cause of mortality among infants and young children globally. However, whooping cough can affect people of all ages when immunity reduces over time. The increasing number of cases has been attributed to the weakening of the vaccine’s long-term effects in China.

According to researchers, another potential reason researchers behind the rising incidences of pertussis over the last two decades is the impact of outdoor air pollution in China.

It may begin like a common cold, but unlike a cold, the coughing can last for weeks or months. The disease experiences a cyclical rise every three to five years, but incidences have been growing for more than twenty years.

The bacteria that causes whooping cough also appears to have mutated, particularly in Australia. The country is facing its worst outbreak since 2013, with 2,799 cases recorded in the first three months of 2024.

Similarly, Spain experienced an outbreak of 8,200 cases by March 2024 and the Czech Republic has reported a record number of cases after more than 70 years, with over 6,300 this year.

DTP vaccine — a class of combination vaccines against three infectious diseases namely diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus — is recommended for children while Tdap vaccines can be given to adults. In 2022, 20.5 million children missed out on one or more doses of their DTP vaccines, according to the World Health Organization.

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