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Whooping cough: Contagious disease spreads globally

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Whooping cough, a severe form of cough infection, is spreading fast across several countries like China, the Philippines, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Cases of

whooping cough

have also been recorded in the US and the UK.
As per China’s National Disease Control and Prevention Administration, until February 2024, more than 32,000 cases were identified which was 20 times higher than a year earlier.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is characterized by severe coughing fits, followed by a distinctive “whooping” sound as the affected person gasps for air. The disease can be particularly severe in infants and young children, sometimes leading to complications such as pneumonia, seizures, and even death.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, typically begins with cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, mild cough, and low-grade fever. As the infection progresses, severe coughing fits develop, often with a distinctive “whooping” sound as the person gasps for air. These coughing spells can be intense and may cause vomiting or exhaustion. Between coughing episodes, individuals may appear relatively well. Infants and young children, however, may not produce the characteristic whooping sound and may instead experience apnea or periods where they stop breathing.

How does it spread?

This highly contagious pathogen spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The bacterium attaches to the lining of the airways in the throat and produces toxins that damage the cilia, tiny hair-like structures that help clear mucus and debris from the airways. As a result, the airways become inflamed, leading to the characteristic symptoms of whooping cough, including severe coughing fits, whooping sound, and difficulty breathing.

How to stay safe?

Preventing whooping cough, or pertussis, primarily involves vaccination, along with additional measures to reduce the risk of transmission:
Vaccination: The most effective preventive measure is vaccination. The DTaP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, is routinely administered to infants and young children in multiple doses, starting at 2 months of age. Boosters are recommended for adolescents and adults, including pregnant women during each pregnancy to pass on immunity to their newborns.
Ensuring that family members, caregivers, and close contacts of infants and young children are up-to-date on their pertussis vaccinations can help create a “cocoon” of protection around vulnerable individuals.

Practice good hygiene: Encourage regular handwashing with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, and avoid sharing personal items like utensils or drinking cups.
Cover mouth and nose: Teach cough etiquette by covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets.
Stay home when sick: Individuals with symptoms of respiratory illness, including coughing fits, should stay home from school, work, or other group settings to prevent spreading the infection to others.
Early diagnosis and treatment: Promptly seek medical attention if you or a family member develop symptoms of whooping cough. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics can help reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of illness, as well as prevent further transmission to others.
By following these preventive steps, individuals can help reduce the incidence and impact of whooping cough in their communities, especially among vulnerable populations such as infants and young children.

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