BRITS are being urged to “wear masks” and “avoid hugging” this Christmas as a cough that can last up to 100 days sweeps the UK.
Leading virologist Prof Richard Tedder, from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), gave the advice after new figures revealed whooping cough has seen a 250 per cent increase in cases compared to last year.
Brits are being urged to ‘wear masks’ and ‘avoid hugging’ this Christmas[/caption]
Speaking to The Sun, Prof Richard warned that cases would likely rise further over Christmas as people socialise more than usual.
He said: “People should ensure they are vaccinated and consider using masks to help prevent the spread [of whooping cough].
“They could also adopt the ‘no hugging or kissing’ rule and use their elbows to great people.”
Vaccination rates have fallen in the UK since the Covid pandemic.
The latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data on the maternal whooping cough vaccine programme shows that uptake of the jab has dropped to its lowest level in seven years.
Figures for 2022 show an average uptake across England of 61.5 per cent, a decrease of 3.9 per cent since 2021 and 7.6 per cent from 2020.
The bacterial infection, known as pertussis and the 100-day cough due to its long-lasting symptoms, can cause severe coughing that can lead to vomiting and broken ribs.
Globally, pertussis kills hundreds of thousands of children annually, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Speaking to The Sun, Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, of the UKHSA, said the rise in cases nationally was “expected”.
“Social distancing and lockdown measures imposed across the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the spread of infections, including whooping cough,” they said.
“As expected, we are now seeing cases of whooping cough increase again, so it’s vital pregnant women ensure they get vaccinated to protect their baby.”
Prof Helen Bedford, an expert in child public health at University College London, added: “Whooping cough in young babies can be very serious and vaccinating their mothers in pregnancy is the only way of ensuring they are protected in the first few months.
“Typically, whooping cough presents as bouts of cough which may be followed by a ‘whoop’ sound or vomiting.
“However, whooping cough doesn’t only affect children, people of any age can be affected.
“In older children and adults, it presents as a persistent cough lasting for several months, but as there is often no characteristic whoop in older people, it is often not diagnosed as whooping cough.”
Which areas are worst affected?
It does not specify the ages of those suspected to have the bug.
Some 52 cases were reported in the week ending November 26, almost 50 per cent more than the 35 cases ending October 29.
The South East is one of the hardest-hit areas in the UK within the last week – with 11 suspected cases.
The West Midlands and North West come joint second, with nine cases each.
Yorkshire and Humber, London and Wales all reported six suspected cases – coming in third.
The North East comes in fourth with four cases, with the East of England firth with just one case.
Meanwhile, the East Midlands and the South West both reported no cases
Whooping cough symptoms
WHOOPING cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes.
The first signs of whooping cough are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and sore throat (a high temperature is uncommon).
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.