Surge in long-forgotten illness resulting in months of coughing

Whooping cough can sometimes be very serious (Alamy/PA)
Whooping cough can sometimes be very serious -Credit:Alamy/PA

Health chiefs have sounded the alarm as cases of the dreaded "100-day cough" have seen a near 40 percent spike in just one week, prompting an urgent health warning. The latest stats reveal that a staggering 824 people in England and Wales were struck down with whooping cough in the week up to April 14, jumping from 595 the previous week.

Pertussis, the official term for whooping cough, is seeing high infection rates across all areas. However, while it is fairly moderate in the West Midlands, it's kids in the South West who are particularly vulnerable, according to a recent report.

These figures come from notifications by GPs who flag up symptoms of infectious diseases, although not every case is later confirmed as whooping cough through lab tests. Earlier this month, separate figures for confirmed cases also showed a troubling increase in whooping cough incidents in England and Wales.

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Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) indicated there were 1,468 confirmed cases in January and February 2024, a significant rise from the 858 cases reported in 2023. The peak was back in 2016, with a whopping 5,949 cases in England alone.

The spread of outbreaks can be monitored via the Notification of Infectious Diseases (NOIDS) report, which provides weekly updates on suspected cases of infectious diseases, though it doesn't break down the data by age groups. However, it's generally known that children are often the hardest hit by this illness.

The Sun has reported that the South West of England saw 125 suspected cases last week, closely followed by the South East with 113. London was the third most infected area, where as with 44 cases, only the North East had fewer than the West Midlands.

Often considered a "Victorian disease", whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It can spread quickly and cause serious complications.

In babies, it can lead to pneumonia, seizures and even death. Globally, it kills thousands of children every year, but death rates are highest in countries that don't offer a vaccine.

The NHS provides a whooping cough jab for babies at ages eight, 12 and 16 weeks, as well as children aged three. Pregnant people should also get vaccinated between 16 and 32 weeks. Despite the importance of the vaccine, uptake in the UK has dropped, with a 61.5 percent jab rate in 2022.

This is a 3.9 percent decrease from 2021 and an almost eight percent drop from 2020. Experts have warned that low vaccine uptake is likely behind this recent outbreak.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, a consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, has issued a warning as whooping cough cases rise: "Whooping cough can affect people of all ages but for very young infants, it can be particularly serious."