Whooping cough is an infection of the lining of the respiratory tract. Also known as the windpipe, the respiratory tract carries air to and from the lungs.
The condition is highly infectious and can be spread by coughing and sneezing. The main symptom is an intense hacking cough, which is then followed by the individual taking in a sharp intake of breath that makes a whooping sound. This is what gives the condition its name.
Early symptoms are similar to the common cold and can include sneezing, a runny nose, sore throat, slight temperature and generally feeling unwell. This may last between one and two weeks before the cough appears. This then lasts for around two weeks, but can continue for up to two to three months.
Children and infants are most commonly affected by whooping cough, although it can affect some adults. It is rarely fatal but can be an extremely unpleasant and distressing condition, and can be severe in very young infants - over 50 per cent of babies with the condition will need hospital treatment. All other cases can be treated at home with antibiotics.
Fortunately, since the introduction of immunisation against whooping cough in the 1950s, outbreaks are not common in the UK.
Therefore, due to its severity in young infants, it is imperative that parents take up the immunisations offered to babies at two, three and four months of age. Additionally, a further immunisation is offered to children between the ages of three and five.