(Image: Liubomyr Vorona)

A surge in cases of the so-called ‘100-day cough,’ formally known as whooping cough, is currently sweeping through the UK, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reporting a staggering 230% increase in cases in England and Wales compared to the previous year.

Although the development of a vaccine in the 1950s led to a significant decline in whooping cough cases, recent years have witnessed a resurgence, challenging the notion that the infection was eradicated.

Dr. Gayatri Amirthalingam, Consultant Epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency, highlighted the persistent threat of whooping cough, noting that while routine immunization has substantially reduced cases and deaths, neither infection nor vaccination provides lifelong protection.

Despite the efficacy of the whooping cough vaccine, which has substantially decreased severe cases, it remains a potentially fatal disease, particularly for vulnerable individuals. Pregnant women are routinely offered the vaccine during each pregnancy to safeguard both mother and child, providing temporary protection against whooping cough.

While adults generally experience milder symptoms, often described as a ‘100-day cough’ that can be treated, the impact on children can be catastrophic. Whooping cough in children may lead to severe complications such as pneumonia, breathing difficulties, seizures, and, in tragic cases, death.

The bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough, characterized by severe and prolonged coughing fits, often followed by a distinctive ‘whooping’ sound during breaths. Similar to the spread of COVID-19, whooping cough is highly contagious, transmitted through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Common symptoms of the ‘100-day cough’ include prolonged coughing bouts, worsening at night, a distinctive ‘whoop’ sound (though not always present), breathing difficulties, vomiting due to thick mucus, and facial discoloration, especially in adults.

If experiencing these symptoms, individuals are advised to contact 111, and in cases of severe symptoms like blue or grey lips, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or seizures, an immediate call to 999 is recommended. The resurgence of whooping cough serves as a reminder of the ongoing challenges posed by infectious diseases and the importance of vaccination in preventing their spread.

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