Health officials in the UK have warned of a concerning rise in whooping cough cases. The UK Health Security Agency said cases had risen 250 percent in a year. Between July and November there were 716 reported cases, which is three times higher than the same period in 2022.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes and spreads very easily. It used to be called the ‘100 day cough’ because it can last for weeks or months. But a persistent cough is also one of the most common symptoms of Covid. With new Covid variants, like Eris, Pirola, HV.1 and JN.1, NHS GP Dr Tom Jenkins shared the main differences to look out for.

What is a Covid cough?

There are several types of cough that can occur with COVID-19, said Dr Jenkins. The most common type is the acute dry non-productive cough that occurs as part of a spectrum of initial symptoms as the infection sets in. This cough tends to last 19 days on average.

Dr Jenkins added: “A wet, productive cough may signal a secondary bacterial infection, especially if accompanied by fever or worsening breathlessness, and this would be a reason to notify your GP of your symptoms.

“A post-infective cough can occur after many infections have resolved. The post-infective cough of COVID-19 can last weeks, months or in some cases even a year after infection. However, any cough lasting longer than three weeks should also be discussed with your doctor.”

What’s the cough like with whooping cough - how can you tell the difference?

While COVID-19 does not have a characteristic cough that helps diagnose the infection, whooping cough certainly does, said Dr Jenkins.

He explained: “The Covid cough, in common with many other infections, produces an expiratory sound during an out-breath.

“The whooping cough characteristic ‘whoop’ sound is produced as the sufferer breaths in, and this is the easiest way to distinguish it from other infections.”

What’s your cough more likely to be right now?

The prevalence of COVID-19 is significantly higher than whooping cough, said Dr Jenkins, so the likelihood of Covid affecting you is much greater.

He added: “That said, if you are not vaccinated against whooping cough your chances of infection are of course higher than average, especially if you live in an area of lower vaccine uptake such as London.”

What’s the best way to treat both coughs?

If you suspect that you have whooping cough from the characteristic sound then you should notify your GP as soon as possible for specific testing and treatment, said Dr Jenkins.

He continued: “If the cough is forceful enough to make you vomit, or if it has not settled after three weeks then it should also be considered through discussion with your GP.

“If you suspect that Covid is the cause of your cough then you can obtain a test from your local pharmacy. The acute cough and chronic coughs can be treated with over-the-counter medicines and measures outlined on the NHS website for self-care, which includes honey and lemon plus the herbal remedy pelargonium, which can be found in an over-the-counter medicine called as well as taking paracetamol and ibuprofen.

“Do remember to report any breathlessness, fever, discoloured production or duration longer than three weeks.”

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