Although whooping cough no longer carries a high mortality, symptoms may persist for several months so that both the child and its family suffer weeks of anxiety and disturbed sleep.1 The prevalence and severity of the disease have declined since the turn of the century. Publicity about the adverse effects of whooping cough vaccination steeply reduced the uptake of immunisation in England and Wales - from 78% in 1971 to 37% in 1974.2 The subsequent epidemics of whooping cough in 1977–79 and 1982–83 were the largest since vaccination began. The epidemic which started in September 1985 could well be of similar magnitude. The uptake of immunisation has now somewhat improved and is currently about 65% (information from Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre). This article discusses whether antibiotics can help in whooping cough, either in treatment of the illness or preventing its spread.
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