What is Pertussis or Whooping Cough? China Faces Alarming 20-Fold Increase in Cases with Dozens Dead

Cases reported in US, Uk, Philippines, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands as well.

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China is currently facing a concerning surge in whooping cough cases, causing more than a dozen deaths and sparking worry within the healthcare sector. The country, which endured a devastating coronavirus outbreak in 2020 that later spread globally, has seen a staggering increase of more than 20-fold in whooping cough cases in the first two months of 2024.

Whooping Cough
Surge Pertussis or 'Whooping Cough' cases reported in multiple countries with over a dozen casualties in China X

According to the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration, China reported a combined total of 32,380 cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in January and February. This marks a significant rise from 1,421 cases reported during the same period in 2023, with the infection claiming the lives of 13 individuals.

The resurgence of whooping cough isn't confined to China alone. Deaths attributable to the disease have also been recorded in other countries, including the Philippines, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Outbreaks have been reported in nations such as the US and UK as well.

Whooping cough, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, targets the upper respiratory system, releasing toxins that can lead to airway swelling. The infection is particularly dangerous for children and babies, often proving fatal. Early symptoms resemble those of a common cold, progressing to severe coughing fits accompanied by a distinctive high-pitched "whoop" sound during inhalation.

In response to the outbreak, China typically administers free vaccines in a combined shot that also provides protection against diphtheria and tetanus, especially for infants. In contrast, the US offers two separate vaccines—one for children under seven and another for older individuals. In the UK, routine vaccination of babies is practiced. However, the Philippines has raised concerns about a potential shortage in vaccine supply by May.

Despite high vaccination rates, whooping cough remains a significant cause of infant mortality worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The resurgence of cases underscores the ongoing public health challenge posed by the disease, necessitating vigilant monitoring and proactive measures to contain its spread.