Rise in cases of whooping cough, affecting children

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has noted an increase in cases of whooping cough (also known as pertussis) in South Africa. It commonly affects children under five years.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It causes uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.

While symptoms vary, people may look out for signs similar to the common cold. This includes nasal congestion, runny nose, mild sore throat, mild dry cough and minimal or no fever.

The majority of the cases in South Africa have been recorded in the Western Cape.

The NICD has advised clinicians to be on the alert for cases, conduct diagnostic testing where appropriate, report, notify and prescribe post-exposure prophylaxis to close and high-risk contacts of suspected or confirmed cases.

“From the beginning of 2022 to 15 September, 147 pertussis cases were notified, with a steady increase in the number of cases reported since May and a sharp increase from July (23 cases) through August (33) and September (53),” the NICD said in a statement on Wednesday.

Of the 147 cases, 77% of the cases (113) were children younger than five years old, with 79% (116) being under three months. 

“In July and August 2022, the cases reported were evenly distributed across provinces and in keeping with numbers reported before Covid-19, while in September 2022, the majority of cases were reported from Western Cape and numbers higher than those reported from this province pre-Covid-19.”

Pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease and immunity after vaccination is expected to last for five to six years.

According to the NICD, out of 34 children aged younger than five years, only 26 have vaccination statuses, of which 65% (16) were up to date with their vaccinations.

Parents are urged to ensure that children are up to date with vaccination and to seek medical help early especially for very young children where the illness may be severe.

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