never seen in 40 years

never seen in 40 years

Clémence can't believe it. Her daughter, 2 and a half years old, has just left the emergency department and the diagnosis is clear: whooping cough. “No fever, just violent, repeated coughing fits, particularly at night, but no other symptoms. And her three brothers are affected,” says the young mother, a teacher in Hauts-de-France. A typical picture of the disease, a respiratory condition which had almost disappeared but which has made a comeback since the start of the year in Europe, and particularly in France. A “fairly explosive rebound”, even specifies the head of the national reference center at the Pasteur Institute.

Nearly 6,000 cases have already been recorded during the first five months of 2024, compared to only 495 over the whole of 2023, or twelve times more. A partly expected resurgence. As the pathology evolves in cycles, its epidemic peak occurs every three to five years. The last six appeared in 1997, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2012-2013 and 2017-2018. Everything suggested that a surge was going to occur in 2021 or 2022, but Covid passed through there. The health measures implemented to protect the population from the pandemic have reduced their immunity and delayed the return of the epidemic. Result: respiratory disease returns this year with magnitude and at exceptional speed. A phenomenon unseen for almost forty years.

A contagious bacteria

Whooping cough is not only a childhood disease, it also affects adults, who can transmit it to infants too young to have received vaccination. Bordetella pertussis , the bacteria responsible for the infection, turns out to be particularly contagious: a patient can contaminate fifteen other people on average, ten times more than the Covid-19 virus at the start of the epidemic. Especially since many adults have often “skipped” the last vaccination booster, which must take place at age 25. The disease therefore spreads mainly within families or within communities.

Although deaths remain rare in Western countries, “whooping cough can present severe forms at any age,” recalls the Pasteur Institute. Particularly in unvaccinated infants, immunocompromised patients and the elderly. The most effective prevention remains vaccination. The incidence of the disease has largely decreased in countries that have made it compulsory for newborns, such as in France since 2018.

An Australian scientific study shows that hospitalizations increase with age. From the first symptoms, it is therefore important to consult a doctor, who will carry out a PCR test and prescribe antibiotics, including for those close to them, “regardless of their age if they have not received a booster vaccination in the last five years,” advises the Pasteur Institute.

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