Whooping cough is alive and well in the UK – How to spot it

This isn’t my usual blog post but I feel the need to share this information which I hope will help someone out there. I am not a doctor but I have gained some knowledge during the course of getting my son diagnosed. He tested positive last week. It’s a notifiable disease, so a letter from Public Health followed.

Whooping cough is thought by many doctors to be very rare. This isn’t the case. 18% of immunised children with a persistent cough are found to test positive for pertussis antibodies. Without hearing the cough, it’s hard to diagnose as the chest often sounds clear and the patient is quite well, if a little tired, inbetween coughing fits. The cough goes on and on until completely out of air. You’ll either be unable to breathe or you’ll make a whooping noise as you catch your breath. It can also cause vomiting and even nosebleeds. The best thing to do is make a recording of the cough for your doctor to hear as in the early stages, tests won’t work and as for xrays..they’ll usually be clear anyway. So the sound of the cough is the best way to make a diagnosis. You’ll know it when you hear it, it’ll be unlike any other cough you’ve had.

Vaccinations do help, obviously, but after the age of 10 your immunity starts to wane. In America, boosters are given at this point but here, we don’t have that, which is one of the reasons why whooping cough is on the rise for adolescents and adults. Going undiagnosed means this extremely contagious illness can be passed to everyone, especially the most at risk groups such as babies and the elderly. Luckily, the UK has now introduced a vaccine for pregnant women. In my opinion, the next stop should be a booster at the age of 10 but whether that’ll happen, I have no idea.

The first symptoms begin with cold type symptoms. These could go on quite a while before the paroxysms start. The throat can feel like it’s coated in some slimy substance. You might feel more tired than usual. Sore throat, a bit achy, all general ‘feeling unwell’ sort of stuff. At this stage, you could be treated with antibiotics (erithromyicin, azithromycin or clarithromycin) before it’s too late. The bacteria can live in your body, in incubation, for 21 days, sometimes longer, so if you’re saying ‘Well I would’ve had it by now’ you’re taking a risk. It’s possible you’ll get it further down the line. Don’t wait for the cough to start…by then it’s too late to treat, the bacteria will have already done it’s damage. If it has been left too late, the antibiotics will at least stop you being contagious after five days. If you don’t take the antibiotics, you need to stay away from work or school for 21 days. You can get it if you’ve had it before and being immunised does not completely protect you.

So how long will it last? This depends on the individual. Some get it worse than others. However, they don’t call it the ‘100 day cough’ for nothing. It can go on for around 3 months. It eventually becomes less frequent. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

If you have any problems getting the right diagnosis and you are sure you think you or your child has whooping cough, visit the best website there is at http://www.whoopingcough.net

It’s full of useful information and has a template letter for you to show your doctor. Personally, I think this letter should go out to ALL GP’s in the UK right now. There are outbreaks every 3 or 4 years and right on cue, there is one right now. The last was in 2012 where 9711 cases were confirmed in the UK. What’s worrying is that they are the confirmed cases. Imagine how many go undiagnosed.

My story:

My son is 14. He displayed symptoms of a virus back in the beginning of March. To be fair to the nurse practitioner, he did appear to have a virus at this stage. I said he had a cough but didn’t explain what the cough was like. I was advised to use the steam method of clearing the airways and was assured he’d be alright in a week.

The next week I took him back as this cough was terrifying. He was coughing a lot more and it sounded really odd, like it was alien to him! He coughed and coughed and coughed until he was sick but because he didn’t make the whooping noise I thought it must be something else..maybe an allergy as his eyes were watering all the time. I was asked why I had come back. I left feeling really worried and did some research online.

I’d done a lot of research by this point. I knew it was whooping cough.

So in week 3, I took my son back again and said I am sure I know what this is. The doctor seemed unconvinced but said yes, it ‘probably was’. It helped that I had recorded the sound of the cough. I have to say, all the doctors myself and my family have seen, have been very unconvinced that whooping cough is a possibility and a real threat to everyone. I know they’re human just like us, they’re not walking medical encyclopaedias but I really believe that doctors do not know how to spot the signs and do not know what to do if people have been exposed to it.

My son had a blood test (had to wait quite a while for this to come through then a further two weeks for the results) and it tested positive for pertussis antibodies. Finally! A confirmed diagnosis! I have to admit I was glad I’d stuck to my guns on this one as it would’ve gone undetected for sure.

Now by this time it was way too late for my son to have any medication but an inhaler is helping him.

Unfortunately because of the time it’s taken to be diagnosed, my mother, husband, father (who also has asbestosis) all have it. I requested clarithromycin for myself and my daughter and luckily the doctor agreed albeit rather begrudgingly. I think she would’ve rather waited to the blood test results but I didn’t want to take the risk as you’ve got to kill that bacteria while it’s in incubation and I didn’t know how long the results would take to come in.

I am very worried about my father especially. My mum seems to be doing ok. She got the antibiotics after I badgered her about it but I think it was too late as she still has the cough. My husband is pretty bad, seems to be getting worse. He also took the antibiotics too late to stop the bacteria but at least it stopped him being contagious. Other family members who have been in contact with my son, are having difficulty getting the recommended antibiotics and this is where I believe all doctors need to read up on this subject and realise that it is a real illness, alive and prevalent right NOW.

I am starting a campaign for Dr  Doug Jenkinson’s template to be given to all GP’s in the UK to spread awareness.

Any questions or comments feel free to leave here on the blog.

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