As '100-day cough' sweeps UK GP reveals what every parent must know – and when to dial 999 | The Sun

CASES of whooping cough, otherwise known as the ‘100-day cough’, have spiked across the UK.

An expert has revealed exactly why parents should be vigilant – but people of any age can catch it.

Cases of whooping cough have increased by roughly 230 per cent compared to last year, according to the latest report from the UK Health and Security Agency, on December 15. 

Between July and the start of December, there were 856 reported occurrences of whooping cough, an increase of 230 per cent on the same period last year.

Infections have been creeping up week by week, with 77 confirmed in the first week of December.

While it's not a huge number of reported cases, GP Dr Tom Jenkins says: “It’s something we want parents to be vigilant for and report early.”

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Here's why…

What is it?

Whooping (hooping) cough, officially known as pertussis, is a fast-spreading bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. 

Dr Jenkins says: “It has evolved to make you cough as long as possible, giving it the best chance to spread to other people.

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“We make a big deal about it because – other than the fact the cough carries on for ages after – the frequent coughing doesn’t give you time to breathe properly, and it makes you quite out of breath.

“That can be important for anybody but particularly children.”

Babies under six months are most at risk of problems such as breathing difficulties and pneumonia. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the US health agency – says about one third of babies younger than one years old who get whooping cough need care in the hospital.

It says around one in 100 of those will die of the disease. But these statitsics may not be the same for the UK.

According to a July report from the UK Health and Security Agency, the last pertussis-related death of an infant was reported in the second quarter (April to June) of 2019.

Serious complications can be seen in anybody, however, and given the cough lasts for so long, it can have implications on a person's life.

Spot the signs

The first signs of whooping cough are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and sore throat.

Around a week later, a person will have coughing fits that are so severe that they make a whoop sound between coughs as they gasp for breath.

If you see your child has laboured breathing, don’t delay seeking help.

Coughing may lead to sore ribs, a hernia or an ear infection. 

Dr Jenkins says: “Whooping cough causes a high in-breath sound, which is unusual for a normal cough. That should alert you to something unusual going on.

“It can be a life-threatening situation. That is true of any condition causing abnormal breathing sounds because it means airways are under distress.”

Infected people are contagious from about six days after the start of cold-like symptoms, for up to three weeks after the coughing starts. 

When to see a GP

Parents should take babies under six months with symptoms of whooping cough for an urgent GP appointment or call 111.

Pregnant women and those with a weak immune system should do the same.

Dr Jenkins says: “If you see your child has laboured breathing, don’t delay seeking help.

“That means the emergency department [or call 999] if there are signs their skin is changing colour or if [breathing] is getting rapidly worse.”

Shallow breathing, chest pain that’s worse with coughing and seizures are also signs to call 999.

Dr Jenkins says: “But if it's only just started, you have time to call 111 or ask for an urgent GP appointment.

“Often things happen in the night and parents shouldn't delay seeing a GP in the morning.”

Dr Jenkins says any cough that causes difficulty breathing should be reported, as it could also be croup or bronchiolitis.

Can it be treated?

If diagnosed within three weeks of the cough, antibiotics will be given – but while they reduce the spread of the cough, they may not reduce symptoms.

Antibiotics past this point are unlikely to help, but a person can still suffer symptoms due to respiratory damage. 

Babies under six months and those with severe whooping cough are usually given hospital treatment.

Dr Jenkins urged people not to ignore signs of whooping cough because the earlier its diagnosed, the less serious it will become.

As the symptoms can last so long, it can affect people’s ability to work long-term, and therefore affect their life.

Dr Jenkins says: “I see it all the time – people can’t get sick pay and their employees say ‘You’ve just got a cough’, and in some jobs like a restaurant or carer, you’re spreading it to others.”

How to avoid catching it

The whooping cough vaccine protects babies and children from getting whooping cough. 

It is given to babies at eight, 12 and 16 weeks, and as a booster for children aged three years.

But uptake dropped over the pandemic and is at a seven-year low.

Coverage in London is particularly low at just 41.4 per cent.

Experts have urged parents to look at their kids’ vaccination records.

Pregnant women should have the jab between 16 and 32 weeks.

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