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Whooping cough cases continue to rise

May 13, 2024
Whooping cough cases continue to rise
May 13, 2024

New data shows an alarming rise in the number of confirmed whooping cough cases in the UK this year.

The UKHSA (the UK’s Health Security Agency) reveals cases are up by 419 month on month – 1,319 cases in March 2024 compared to 900 in February 2024. It also says five babies have died as a result of whooping cough so far this year.

Although most cases this year are affecting under-15s, the highest rates are amongst babies under the age of 3 months.

‘The rise in cases is concerning and tragic. No baby should be dying from whooping cough in this day and age due to a safe and effective vaccination program,’ says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Jenny Ellenbogen.

Sadly, the UKHSA says vaccine uptake is in steady decline and urges families to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, from the UKHSA, says:

‘Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but for very young babies it can be extremely serious.

‘Vaccination remains the best defence against whooping cough and it is vital that pregnant women and young infants receive their vaccines at the right time.’

Here’s what you need to know about whooping cough, including how to get your vaccine to protect yourself and others against this deadly yet preventable disease.


What is a whooping cough?


Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It spreads very easily and can sometimes cause serious problems.


Also known as pertussis or the ‘100-day cough’, whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. 

‘It spreads very easily and can sometimes cause serious problems particularly in babies and children,’ says Dr Jenny.

Symptoms of whooping cough include cold-like symptoms (runny nose, sore throat). A fever is uncommon though.

According to NHS guidance, you’ll then experience a distinctive cough that makes a “whoop” sound – a gasp for breath between coughs (young babies and some adults may not “whoop”).

What are 5 Symptoms of Whooping Cough?

5 characteristics of whooping cough include:

  • coughing bouts that last for a few minutes and are worse at night.
  • difficulty breathing after a coughing bout where young children may turn blue or grey.
  • bringing up a thick mucus, which can make you vomit.
  • becoming very red in the face (more common in adults).
  • a cough that may last for several weeks or months.

Treatment for whooping cough includes antibiotics, rest and fluids. It can require hospital treatment in severe cases.

‘Age-appropriate medicine such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help relieve symptoms but do not use cough medicines – they are not suitable for young children and do not help with this type of cough,’ says Dr Jenny.

Why is whooping cough dangerous?


The real danger of is in unknowingly transmitting the illness to a vulnerable baby, either directly or through other people.


Whooping cough is extremely contagious and therefore easily spread to people who cannot be vaccinated and are vulnerable.

For very young babies who catch it, whooping cough can cause complications such as:

  • dehydration
  • breathing problems
  • pneumonia
  • seizures

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis says: 

‘With cases of whooping cough continuing to rise sharply across the country, and today’s figures sadly showing five infant deaths, it is vital that families come forward to get the protection they need.’

Who is eligible for a whooping cough vaccine?


The whooping cough vaccine is routinely given as part of the: 6-in-1 vaccine – for babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks.


The whooping cough vaccine is given via routine NHS vaccinations. 

It is part of the:

  • 6-in-1 vaccine – for babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks
  • 4-in-1 pre-school booster – for children aged 3 years 4 months.

It is also given during pregnancy – ideally between 20 and 32 weeks – to offer protection to your newborn baby while they’re still in the womb. 

This means they have some protection in those first few weeks of being born when they’re particularly vulnerable and not yet old enough to have their own routine vaccines.

If you or your child has not had theirs yet, it is not too late.

‘Ask your GP for a catch-up vaccination to get protected as soon as possible,’ says Dr Jenny.

Remember that it is both safe – no vaccine can be approved without extremely strict safety checks – and effective, offering 92% protection against infant death,’ says Dr Jenny. 

Check if your child is up to date with their vaccinations by asking your GP or checking their red book.

Seeing the doctor about whooping cough


See a doctor if you think you or your child may have whooping cough.


Struggling to see a GP? Book in with one of our ZoomDoc GP when it suits you. Simply download our app and for just £35 you can get peace of mind, a diagnosis or a prescription if required.


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