Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
April 27, 2024 ·  4 min read

So-Called ‘100-Day Cough’ Spreading in the UK as Cases Surge by 40%

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is making headlines in the United Kingdom as there has been a surge in cases by 40%. This highly contagious respiratory illness is causing concern not only in the UK, but in other countries, as well. Across the pond in North America, many families are wondering if they, too, should be concerned. This is what the experts are saying. (1)

Understanding Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis and is primarily spread through small respiratory droplets. It can affect people of all ages, but its severity is most pronounced in young infants. Symptoms of whooping cough in adults and older children can often resemble those of a cold, including a runny nose and cough. However, in infants, the infection can be particularly dangerous as it can lead to complications such as pneumonia, which can be fatal. (2)

Whooping cough is characterized by a severe cough that can last for several weeks and is often accompanied by a “whoop” sound. The coughing fits can be so severe that they cause vomiting or make it difficult to breathe. In some cases, the infection can cause pneumonia or other complications.

Rise in Cases

Recent reports indicate a significant increase in cases of whooping cough in the UK and Europe, marking the largest surge since 2012. China has also experienced a staggering surge, with more than 15,000 cases reported in January 2024. This is a 15-fold increase compared to the same period last year. In the United States, there have been small clusters of reported cases among high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area, isolated cases in Hawaii, and an outbreak in New York City last year. (3)

Factors Contributing to the Surge

The surge in whooping cough cases can be attributed to several factors. Although widespread vaccination efforts have largely controlled the disease in the US, breakthrough cases can still occur in vaccinated individuals, albeit usually milder in nature. Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as masking, physical distancing, and reduced doctor visits, may have interrupted the normal vaccine schedule. This has led to a decrease in vaccination rates and leaving some individuals more susceptible to infection.

Impact on Infants and Children

Whooping cough poses the greatest risk to infants and young children, especially those under the age of 2 months. In these cases, the disease can lead to severe respiratory distress, causing difficulties in breathing and cough seizures that can be life-threatening. It is crucial for parents and caregivers to be aware of the warning signs, such as blue lips or breathing difficulties, in infants who have been potentially exposed to the illness.

Read More: 10 Medical Conditions Revealed Through Our Skin

Vaccination and Prevention

Vaccination plays a vital role in preventing whooping cough. The CDC recommends a series of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccines starting at 2 months old, with additional doses given at different intervals throughout childhood. For adults, a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster is recommended every 10 years. The Tdap vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women during their third trimester to provide protection to both the mother and the newborn.

Effectiveness of Vaccines

While some studies suggest that the bacterium responsible for pertussis may have evolved over time, potentially affecting the efficacy of vaccines, experts emphasize that the current DTaP and Tdap vaccines still provide significant protection. Unlike the flu or the coronavirus, which mutate rapidly, the strains of pertussis have remained relatively stable, allowing the vaccines to remain effective.

Should We Worry in North America?

As cases of whooping cough surge in the UK and various parts of the world, it is natural to wonder if there is a cause for concern in North America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the current outbreaks are not considered unusual and that local outbreaks are expected to occur each year. 

“Some U.S. health departments have informed us of local outbreaks, which we expect to see every year,” Jasmine Reed, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson, told NBC News. “So we are not seeing anything unusual.”

Furthermore, the number of whooping cough cases in the US is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, with the country typically seeing around 20,000 cases annually. Therefore, while vigilance and adherence to vaccination schedules are important, there is currently no need for widespread alarm.

The Bottom Line

The recent surge in whooping cough cases in the UK and other countries highlights the importance of vaccination and awareness of the disease, especially for infants and young children. While the situation requires attention, the current outbreak is not cause for panic in North America. By staying updated on vaccination schedules, following preventive measures, and raising awareness about the disease, we can collectively work towards reducing the impact of whooping cough on our communities.

Read More: 7 Symptoms of Diverticulitis (+ Causes, Treatment, and Remedies)


  1. Whooping cough rises sharply in UK and Europe.” BMJ. April 2024.
  2. What is whooping cough and how can I prevent my children catching it?Ukhsa. April 12, 2024.
  3. Whooping cough rising sharply in some countries. Why you may need a booster.NBC News.  Kaitlin Sullivan. April 17, 2024.