Whooping cough red flag symptoms to know following surge in 2024 cases

Young baby coughing
Whooping cough can be very serious in young children -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

People in Scotland are being urged to keep an eye out for symptoms of whooping cough after a recent surge in UK cases resulting in the tragic death of five babies.

Also known as pertussis, or the '100-day cough', the bacterial infection of the lungs can be highly dangerous and it's easily spread, according to the NHS.

For this reason it's important that babies and young children get vaccinated against it. However, even those who have had the vaccine can still catch it, so it's vital to be aware of the symptoms and seek treatment if necessary.

The latest figures from Public Health Scotland show that there were 73 confirmed laboratory cases of whooping cough in 2023. Compared to 2022 and 2021 this is a significant increase, as only three and four cases were confirmed respectively.

The data for the first part of this year won't be published until next month. However, a recent update from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has noted that 1,319 cases were confirmed in England in March, with five infant deaths in the first quarter of 2024.

With that in mind, here's everything you need to know about the condition, including symptoms and when to seek treatment.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs and breathing tubes, potentially leading to serious problems. The symptoms are similar to that of a common cold at first, but develops into coughing fits around a week after infection.

The infection can affect people of all ages, although youngsters are most at risk of becoming seriously unwell. It gets its name from the 'whoop' sound a person may make as they gasp for breath in between coughs, especially when it comes to babies. However, not every baby will make this sound, which can mean it's hard to spot.

The advice from the government states that if anyone in your household is diagnosed with whooping cough, they should stay at home and avoid work, school or nursery until 48 hours after starting antibiotics, or 3 weeks after symptoms start if they have not had antibiotics.

Pediatrician makes vaccination to small boy
Getting vaccinated can protect against whooping cough -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

Whooping cough symptoms

The first signs of whooping cough are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and sore throat. 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 (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 months - which is why it's also sometimes know as the '100-day cough'.

When to seek treatment

According to the NHS, you should make an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if your baby is under six months old and has symptoms of whooping cough, or a bad cough that has been getting worse.

If you're pregnant and have come into contact with someone who has whooping cough, you should also speak to a medical professional.

Since the disease can spread very easily, it's recommended that you call your GP before going in, as they should be able to give you advice on your next steps over the phone.

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