Whooping cough in France: the highly contagious disease is back, the authorities are raising the alarm

A resumption of the circulation of whooping cough, a very contagious and sometimes serious disease, is beginning in France. since the start of the year, notes Public Health France, calling for vigilance and recalling the importance of vaccination.

The health agency is warning in particular of "a clear increase in the number of grouped cases": around fifteen grouped cases have been reported in eight mainland regions since the start of 2024, compared to two in Ile-de-France alone over the entire year 2023.

"In the first quarter, around fifteen clusters, mainly in communities (nursery schools, primary schools, daycare centers and nursery homes) but also family clusters, totaling 70 cases have been reported", according to a document posted Thursday evening on its website.

Respiratory infection of bacterial origin

Whooping cough, a respiratory infection caused by bacteria, is transmitted very easily through the air, through contact with a sick person with a cough, mainly in the family or in communities.

It causes frequent and prolonged coughing fits, and can be serious for infants and vulnerable people (chronic respiratory patients, immunocompromised people, pregnant women). Deaths are rare but can occur especially in very young unvaccinated infants.

As the "resumption of community circulation of the bacteria could intensify in the coming months" , Public Health France emphasizes that "vigilance remains essential, with the need to strengthen public awareness of this disease and its prevention methods", vaccination in mind.

If the number of cases of whooping cough has decreased significantly since the introduction of the vaccine, "the bacteria continues to circulate" and affects more people infants too young to be vaccinated, as well as adolescents and adults who have lost vaccination protection, particularly due to insufficient boosters.

Whooping cough progresses in cycles of recrudescence every three to five years. In France, previous epidemic peaks were noted in 1997, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2012-2013 and 2017-2018.

The Covid effect

"If a rebound could be expected in 2021-2022, the exceptional context and the health measures […] within the framework of the’ Covid-19 epidemic have probably reduced the transmission of whooping cough", according to SPF.

Despite the current rise, "to date, the French situation is not comparable with that of our European neighbors and across the Atlantic, which report several hundred cases per week since the last quarter of 2023", however tempers the agency.

Significant epidemics have been reported in Croatia, Denmark and the United Kingdom and significant increases in cases in Belgium, Spain and Germany. Deaths were also reported this week in the Czech Republic or at the end of January in Serbia.

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