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Three more babies died from whooping cough in April

Three more babies died from whooping cough in April

Three more babies have been confirmed to have died from whooping cough in April, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

It follow five deaths that were reported by health officials in the first three months of the year. The eight deaths were in infants who developed pertussis between January and April and were too young to be fully protected by the infant vaccine.

The latest figures show that in the first four months of this year there have been 4,793 laboratory confirmed cases of pertussis compared with 858 across the whole of 2023.

Of the cases reported so far this year, half were in those aged 15 years or older and 26% in children aged 10 to 14 years.

In the most vulnerable group of infants aged under three months, there have been 181 cases between January and April, the figures show.

UKHSA said in the 12 years before the introduction of maternal pertussis vaccination in 2012, there were 63 in babies aged under one year with confirmed pertussis.

From 2013 to the end of April 2024, there have been 29 deaths in babies with confirmed pertussis who were all too young to be fully protected by infant vaccination, the update said.

‘Sadly, this includes 8 deaths in infants who had contracted pertussis between January and April 2024.

‘Of the 29 infants that died, 23 had mothers who were not vaccinated in pregnancy,’ it added.

Officials have been concerned about falling uptake of maternal pertussis vaccination which has dropped 74.7% in December 2017 to 59.5% in December 2023.

In March, UKHSA issued warnings to parents of babies and pregnant women to urgently take up offers of vaccination amidst rising cases of pertussis as part of national awareness campaigns.

Cyclical increases in rates of pertussis are expected with the last peak year being 2016, said, meaning the increase was overdue based on historical patterns.

There had also been reduced levels of spread between 2020 and 2021 as a result of measures to control Covid-19.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: ‘Our thoughts and condolences are with those families who have so tragically lost their baby.

‘With whooping cough case numbers across the country continuing to rise and sadly the further infant deaths in April, we are again reminded how severe the illness can be for very young babies.

‘The vaccine is crucial for pregnant women, to protect their babies from what can be a devastating illness.’

As part of the annual analysis of attitudes towards vaccination, 20% of parents surveyed in 2023 said they had come across information online that made them concerned, compared with 6% the year before, UKHSA officials reported earlier this year.

A version of this article was first published by our sister title Pulse

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