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Whooping cough, also sometimes referred to as pertussis, is an infection of the lining of the respiratory tract. The respiratory tract is the airway that carries air to and from the lungs.
Whooping cough is highly infectious. The condition is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis, which can be passed from person to person through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing.
The condition is known as whooping cough because the main symptom is a hacking cough, which is often followed by a sharp intake of breath that sounds like a 'whoop'.
Who gets whooping cough?
Whooping cough usually affects infants and young children. However, adults can also sometimes develop the condition. Whooping cough tends to be most severe in young infants and, in rare cases, it can be fatal.
How common is whooping cough?
In the 1950s, there were more than 100,000 reported cases of whooping cough in England and Wales. However, with the introduction of an immunisation programme during the 1950s, plus the introduction of a pre-school booster jab in 2001, the number of confirmed cases of whooping cough is now very low.
Before vaccination against whooping cough began, in the 1950s, there was an epidemic of the condition every 3-4 years in the UK. As a result, 80% of children developed whooping cough before they were five years of age.
Today in the UK, children are vaccinated against whooping cough at two, three and four months of age, and again before starting school, at 3-5 years of age. Although the number of cases of whooping have fallen dramatically since vaccination began, it is still possible for children to get whooping cough. Therefore, vaccination is vital.
Vaccination against whooping cough can fade over time and it is possible to develop the condition during adulthood, even if previously vaccinated. However, the symptoms are usually less serious than they are during childhood.
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