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Pertussis: management and diagnosis in primary care

Emma Rickards looks at this often distressing respiratory condition which has been on the rise this winter
Pertussis, meaning violent cough, is currently said to be at its highest level in the UK for 10 years (image: Adobe Stock) -

Pertussis, literally meaning ‘a violent cough,’ also known as whooping cough or ‘the cough of 100 days,’ was first described in the Paris epidemic of 1578.1 Before the introduction of the whooping cough vaccine in the 1950s, whooping cough was one of the most common childhood infections. Annual notifications exceeded 120,000 in England and Wales.2

Pertussis often affects 100% of non-immune household contacts. Immunity wanes to 50% 12 years after completing a vaccination series.1 Vaccinations have a direct impact on incidence rates, however a decrease in vaccine uptake (in most due to professional and public anxiety about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine) led to major epidemics in 1977–1979 and 1981–1983.3 The annual report of laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough in England reported the incidence of laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough in the first quarter of 2022 (from January to March). Overall, there were 9 cases in 2022 compared with 11 and 806 cases in the same quarter in 2021 and 2020, respectively.4

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