What is whooping cough? British doctors are bringing back masks as cases rise

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British GPs have started asking visitors to wear face masks as the country battles a growing outbreak of whooping cough.

Several practices have asked patients to put on masks to prevent the spread of the contagious disease The Telegraph. And at least one has advised patients to wait outside for their appointment.

There have been 2,793 cases of whooping cough in Britain so far this year, with five babies tragically succumbing to the disease.

According to the public health agency, the UK Health Security Agency, there were 556 cases in January, 918 in February and a further 1,319 in March. The organization has released its latest statistics on the disease on Friday.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that affects a person’s lungs. It is also known as ‘100 day cough’ and ‘whooping cough’.

It has many symptoms in common with the common cold, but it can be much more severe and last much longer.

In the first week or two, symptoms include a runny nose, low-grade fever and occasional coughing, except in babies, who don’t cough, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Young children may have more severe symptoms than older children and adults. They may experience pauses in breathing (apnea) and cyanosis, where their skin turns purple or blue.

The disease can then progress to ‘stage two’, which is characterized by rapid and violent coughing fits. These attacks tend to become more severe and frequent as the disease progresses. Normally they last up to six weeks, but sometimes they last up to ten weeks.

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The attacks can be so severe that a person gasps (or even “screeches”) when the attack is over. The seizures can also make people vomit.

A final “recovery” phase can last another two weeks and leave a person vulnerable to respiratory illness for months, the CDC reports. The coughing slowly subsides, but attacks may still return in the future.

Young babies are most likely to develop severe whooping cough symptoms. For this reason, vaccines are available for both pregnant mothers and children to help protect against the disease.

According to the UKHSA, vaccines given during pregnancy provide 92% protection against infant mortality.

People who have been vaccinated also tend to have less severe symptoms.

Because it is contagious, public health experts advise people with symptoms and those with infected family members to stay home.

Antibiotics can be used to treat the disease, but these should be given as soon as possible after symptoms develop.

After about three weeks, the body has usually cleared the infection on its own, so antibiotics will not help improve symptoms.

If antibiotics are taken early on, this can also affect how long an infected person and their family are advised to stay at home.

In Britain, officials say you should stay home for at least 48 hours after antibiotic treatment begins.

If antibiotics are not used, they advise people with whooping cough and their family members to stay at home for three weeks after the symptoms appear.

During illness, people can help manage symptoms by drinking plenty of water, eating small meals to avoid vomiting, avoiding exposure to irritants such as smoke, washing their hands frequently and using a cool mist humidifier, according to the CDC .

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Why are cases increasing now?

Cases normally increase every three to five years, and the UKHSA says an outbreak is overdue in Britain.

As with other infectious diseases such as measles, stricter infection control measures may have helped keep case numbers low during the pandemic.

The population may now have a lower level of immunity to the disease than during previous outbreaks.

Vaccination coverage has fallen in Britain in recent years, so government officials urged the public to come forward for their free shots.

Which injections are given against whooping cough?

In Britain, pregnant women, infants and children receive vaccinations against the disease.

Women are offered an injection every time they are pregnant. Doctors recommend that this happens between 20 and 32 weeks.

“This protects their baby in the womb, so they are protected from birth in the early months of life, when they are most vulnerable, and before they can receive their own vaccines,” said UKHSA consultant epidemiologist Gayatri Amirthalingam in a statement.

Babies receive further protection at 8, 12 and 16 weeks in the form of injections that also protect against other diseases such as polio and diphtheria.

A preschool booster vaccine is recommended once children reach the age of 3 years and 4 months.

“Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but for very young babies it can be extremely serious,” says Amirthalingam. “Our thoughts and condolences go out to the families who have so tragically lost their babies.”

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