People in the UK are being urged to be on the lookout for symptoms of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, which has been sweeping the nation.
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It spreads very easily and can sometimes cause serious problems. As a result, it’s important for babies, children and pregnant women to get vaccinated against it.
There has been a 250% increase in cases of the illness compared to last year, according to Express Healthcare Management.
Earlier this year, the UK Health Security Agency revealed there was a seven-year low in maternal whooping cough vaccination uptake, leaving mothers and newborns at risk of hospitalisation.
With the rise in infections, pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Professor Beate Kampmann, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The Sun: “The rise in cases might be because of missed vaccination appointments, possibly during the pandemic.
“Severe disease is almost entirely preventable if the mother is vaccinated in pregnancy and her protective antibodies reach the baby through the placenta and protect until the baby gets its own vaccines.
“It is therefore important that everyone looks at their vaccination records to check if they might have missed this vaccine, which is given with the routine childhood immunisations and in pregnancy.”
Symptoms of whooping cough
According to the NHS, the first signs of whooping cough are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and sore throat (a high temperature is uncommon).
After about a week, you or your child:
will get coughing bouts that last for a few minutes and are worse at night
may make a “whoop” sound – a gasp for breath between coughs (although young babies and some adults may not “whoop”)
may have difficulty breathing after a coughing bout and may turn blue or grey (young infants)
may bring up a thick mucus, which can make you vomit
may become very red in the face (more common in adults)
The cough may last for several weeks or even months.
Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
your baby is under six months old and has symptoms of whooping cough
you or your child have a very bad cough that is getting worse
you’ve been in contact with someone with whooping cough and you’re pregnant
you or your child has been in contact with someone with whooping cough and have a weakened immune system.
The NHS notes that as this is highly infectious, your GP may prefer a phone call.
Call 999 or go to A&E if:
your or your child’s lips, tongue, face or skin suddenly turn blue or grey (on black or brown skin this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet)
you or your child are finding it hard to breathe properly (shallow breathing)
you or your child have chest pain that’s worse when breathing or coughing – this could be a sign of pneumonia
your child is having seizures (fits)
If you think that you or your child may have whooping cough, it’s essential that you speak to your GP.
For babies under six months with whooping cough, there’s an increased chance of problems such as dehydration, breathing difficulties, pneumonia and seizures.
For children and adults, it is less severe but can still cause problems such as sore ribs, hernia, middle ear infections and urinary incontinence.