Whooping cough wave in England: responses to "100 day cough"

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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How common is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is widespread throughout the world and is one of the most common infectious diseases. A whooping cough epidemic can be expected in Germany every four years. The disease is reportable.

What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. After an infection, the pathogen multiplies in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. There it produces proteins that are toxic to humans and attack tissues. The bacteria Bordetella parapertussis and Bordetella holmesii can also cause symptoms similar to whooping cough. The disease usually progresses more easily and over a shorter period of time than with a Bordetella pertussis infection.

How does whooping cough progress?

After infection, it takes one to two weeks for the first signs of whooping cough to develop. These are caused by the whooping cough toxin that the bacteria secrete. The symptoms – runny nose, watery eyes, hoarseness – are initially very non-specific and easily confused with a harmless cold. Unfortunately, whooping cough is more contagious at this time. This phase lasts from one to two weeks.

Second and third stages of whooping cough

The characteristic feature is spasmodic coughing attacks that end with a pulling sensation. Mucus is secreted and vomiting sometimes occurs. There may be completely asymptomatic periods between coughing attacks, which occur mainly at night. After four to six weeks, coughing attacks gradually become less frequent. It takes another six to ten weeks for the disease to resolve completely.

How do you treat whooping cough?

If you start antibiotic therapy in a timely manner, cough symptoms can at least be alleviated and the phase in which you can infect others is reduced to about five days. However, the disease cannot be prevented. If you already have the typical coughing fits, there will be no relief, but here too the ability to become infectious is reduced.

Risk to life for babies

In general, whooping cough is unpleasant and irritating, but – as a rule – not dangerous. However, this does not apply to babies! They may experience respiratory arrest rather than coughing fits. These are fatal and require intensive medical treatment. Before vaccination was introduced in the 1930s, 10,000 babies died from whooping cough every year in Germany.

Babies do not have protection until their first opportunity for immunization, at two months of age. Pregnant women and adults who come into contact with children must therefore also be vaccinated to prevent transmission of the pathogen.

Elderly people are also at risk

Whooping cough also poses risks for people aged 60 and over. Your immune system is generally weaker. In some cases, whooping cough is atypical for them: in each case, there are no symptoms other than a dry, persistent cough. The illness can therefore easily be misinterpreted as a cold or bronchitis. The risk of spread is correspondingly high because those affected do not know that they have whooping cough. In severe cases, whooping cough can cause groin and rib fractures. One of the most common complications is pneumonia.

How can you protect yourself from whooping cough?

The Permanent Vaccination Commission (STIKO) provides basic immunization for babies, children and adolescents. She advises all adults to get vaccinated – especially those who have contact with children. These include women who wish to have children, close contacts (parents, siblings) and those who care for children (nannies, nannies, grandparents, educators). In fact, the whooping cough vaccination only works against Bordetella pertussis and not against other bacteria, such as Bordatella parapertussis, which causes illnesses similar to whooping cough.

When should the vaccination be administered?

A so-called acellular vaccine is vaccinated, which contains only the components of bacterial cells that are important for immunological protection. The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends that vaccination against pertussis should, if possible, be carried out as part of basic immunization with combined vaccines. Depending on the vaccine used (2, 3, 5 or 6 times vaccines), there are different vaccination schedules. More information can be found on the Robert Koch Institute website.

When should you update?

You can get whooping cough again after an illness (protection: four to 20 years) and with vaccination (protection: four to twelve years). The aim of the vaccination strategy is to protect particularly vulnerable population groups, such as babies and young children. A first booster vaccination is recommended by the Permanent Vaccination Committee (STIKO) at five to six years of age in combination with tetanus and diphtheria, and a second booster between nine and 17 years of age. According to STIKO, it is also recommended that adults receive a single vaccination against pertussis. Pregnant women should be vaccinated against whooping cough as early as possible in the 3rd trimester (in the 2nd trimester if premature birth is expected) to protect their newborn child. This recommendation also applies to contact people – for example parents, grandparents, etc., who have not received vaccination against whooping cough in the last ten years. For those who work in health and community units, vaccination against pertussis is recommended by STIKO as a vaccination indication every ten years.

How tolerable is the whooping cough vaccination?

The tolerability of a vaccination depends on which other vaccines the serum is combined with. Existing illnesses and physical condition also play a role. Basically, you should always talk to your doctor about possible side effects and decide with your doctor individually whether it makes sense to vaccinate and which vaccine to use.

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