The Czech Republic is seeing a steep rise in cases of whooping cough. This year, doctors have registered 880 cases of the highly contagious disease, and expect that by the end of the year, the number could exceed one thousand. Such a high incidence of whooping cough was last registered in the 1960s.
Each week, Czech doctors identify on average between 25 and 30 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough. Newborn babies and elderly people face particular risk of contracting the disease but experts warn that up to 90 percent of the population is at risk. Hana Roháčová is the head of the infectious, parasitic and tropical diseases clinic at Prague’s Bulovka hospital.
“The number of cases of whooping cough has been rising over the past several years so we decided to start vaccinating children at the age of 11. We have also registered several deaths among newborns and babies who had not yet been vaccinated. That’s rather alarming. But even healthy adults who contract the disease can take several weeks to recover, and the symptoms are quite unpleasant.”
Mandatory vaccination against pertussis was introduced in then Czechoslovakia in 1958 and with time, the disease was practically eradicated in the country, with five cases recorded in 1989.
The recent surge in whooping cough cases is attributed to a change of the vaccine which took place in the early 2000s. The shots used until that time provided protection for 12 years. The currently used vaccine – Infanrix Hexa, produced by the UK-based GlaxoSmithKline – has a smaller risk of side effects. But it only provides protection for a period of five years.
“Vaccination does not protect people for the rest of their lives. As soon as the disease breaks through this barrier, new cases begin to appear. And every new case further increases the risk for people who were vaccinated a long time ago or not at all. This means that even adults and elderly people can contract the disease.”
Doctors say the most effective method of curbing the occurrence of whooping cough is vaccination of adults, as well as what they call the cocoon strategy. Doctor Roháčová again.
“Children are now regularly vaccinated, and we have added another shot at the age of 11. We now also recommend adults to get shots. People who are planning to start a family should also get immunization. This is called cocoon strategy, and it protects the newborn from potentially getting infected from their parents.”
The authorities are now considering plans to provide free immunization against whooping cough for people around the age of 25. A proposal to get the vaccine covered by health insurance should reach the Czech Health Ministry in the coming months.