100 day cough: Public health advice as whooping cough on the rise in Derry & across the north

The Public Health Agency in the north has issued fresh advice after a significant rise in the number of people being affected by what is being termed the ‘100 day cough’.
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The ‘Journal’ asked various health bodies for information and comment after numerous reports of people being affected by a persistent coughing condition day and night and lasting for weeks on end, with some needing multiple courses of antibiotics and steroids to help rid them of what appears to be an infection.

Latest statistics reveal that there have been over 460 cases of ‘clinically suspected’ whooping cough, which is also called pertussis, notified to the Public Health Agency since January 1 2024. Of those, 352 were laboratory confirmed, and this is a massive increase on previous years, as there were no confirmed cases in 2023, just two in 2022 and none in 2021.

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In response to the Journal query, a spokesperson for the PHA confirmed: “The Public Health Agency (PHA) has seen an increase in cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in recent months, a highly contagious and sometimes serious bacterial infection.

100 Days Cough- there has been a sharp rise in whooping cough cases in the north of Ireland.100 Days Cough- there has been a sharp rise in whooping cough cases in the north of Ireland.
100 Days Cough- there has been a sharp rise in whooping cough cases in the north of Ireland.

"Whooping cough, which some call the ‘100-day cough’, tends to circulate in greater numbers in Northern Ireland every three to four years. Currently we are seeing an increase, so it is a timely reminder of the importance of vaccination for eligible groups.

“Whooping cough spreads very easily and can make babies and young children in particular very ill, and can even be fatal in young babies or people with underlying health conditions.

"However, it can be prevented through vaccination, so it is extremely important that parents get their babies vaccinated against it as part of the childhood vaccination programme, and that pregnant women also get vaccinated, as this will help protect their baby from getting whooping cough in the weeks after birth.”

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The PHA advised that the best time for pregnant women to get the vaccine is between 16 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. The vaccine is also given as part of the childhood vaccination programme to children at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age, and again at aged 3 years 4 months old.

“Whooping cough vaccines are given at GP practices so parents and pregnant women should make an appointment to get it. If you have any questions about vaccination talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.” See www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/whooping-cough

The PHA advised that there are “simple steps we can all take” to help reduce the spread.

"The risk of catching or passing on respiratory infections is greatest when someone who is infected is close to other people or shares an enclosed or poorly-ventilated space with them. Therefore, if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, avoid coming into unnecessary contact with other people to avoid spreading the infection. You should also ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ by carrying tissues, using them to catch a cough or sneeze, and disposing of them immediately, and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water and use hand sanitiser.

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“If you have symptoms of whooping cough, have had a cough for more than three weeks or have a cough that is particularly severe or is getting worse you should contact your GP practice.”

The PHA also said that along with whooping cough, COVID-19 is still circulating in the community, and symptoms and severity can vary from person to person.

"Vaccinations are our best protection against illnesses like it and flu. The flu programme has now come to an end for this season, but this week the PHA launched the COVID-19 spring booster programme giving the more vulnerable members of our community the opportunity to top up their protection ahead of any potential new waves of COVID-19 over the coming months. For further information on who is eligible for the spring booster see www.nidirect.gov.uk/covidvaccine

“After clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health intervention in the world for saving lives and promoting good health. They provide protection against hospitalisation and death, and reduce the risk of long-term symptoms and spread to others. Anyone who is eligible for vaccination (pertussis or COVID-19 booster) should get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.”

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