‘Deeply concerning’ rise in whooping cough cases

Medical experts are urging families to get their children vaccinated against whooping cough as cases have increased to more than 2,700 in England so far this year.

Yesterday, new figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed that more than 2,700 whooping cough cases have been reported across England so far in 2024 – more than three times the number recorded in 2023.

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In a heartbreaking turn of events, it has also been found that five babies have died after being diagnosed with the infection during January and the end of March.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: ‘Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but for very young babies it can be extremely serious.

‘Our thoughts and condolences are with those families who have so tragically lost their baby.’

Back in 2023, there were 853 cases of whooping cough, however, by the end of March alone 1,319 cases were reported, according to the provisional data. It is thought that the rise in social contact following the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the reasons cases are so high.

William Roberts, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: ‘The data shows that there has been a steep rise in whooping cough cases since the start of the year. This is deeply concerning and is having tragic consequences.

‘The whooping cough vaccine is a simple, safe, and extremely effective way of protecting infants from the infection. It is vitally important that this information is widely accessible to the public and comes from sources that people trust. Like all vaccines, its effectiveness is dependent on it being easily accessible and on its continued uptake.’

Symptoms of the infection

Whooping cough, which is otherwise known as the ‘hundred-day cough’ is a bacterial infection which is what makes it so different from coughs caused by the flu or the common cold.

Dr Kathryn Basford, from online doctor, Zava, said: ‘Whooping cough often appears as a normal cough or cold at first, however you may notice symptoms intensifying after a week or two.

‘While a typical cough clears up in a few weeks and feels mild, whooping cough can linger for much longer, even up to a few months.

‘The key difference to look out for between a mild cough and whooping cough is the intensity. Whooping cough comes in strong coughing fits, especially at night, and most notably includes a high-pitched ‘whoop’ as you struggle to breathe. It can even lead to vomiting, a bright red face, and difficulty breathing.’

Ways to treat whooping cough

The severity of the disease depends on various factors including age and how long you have been experiencing symptoms. Babies aged six months and under are at greater risk of complications due to having a weaker immune system and often require hospitalisation.

However, if people are diagnosed within three weeks of contracting the disease, antibiotics can help. Coupled with painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, the spread of the disease can be contained, and any discomforts caused can be soothed.

  Basford said: ‘The focus is on managing symptoms: getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and using a cool mist humidifier to ease the cough. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can also help with discomfort.’

Image: Towfiqu barbhuiya

More on this topic:

Vaccines ‘safe and highly effective’ for pregnant women

Infection prevention and control app launched for Scottish health and care staff


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