Whooping cough: Richhill family's 'frightening experience'

A County Armagh woman whose husband and eight-year-daughter had whooping cough has said it has been "a really frightening experience" for the family.

There have been 769 laboratory confirmed cases of the infection in Northern Ireland from the start of the year to 5 May.

Five babies have died from whooping cough in England.

Adam McCrory and his daughter Emily from Richhill have had whooping cough.

His wife Sharon McCrory told BBC News NI: "It's very scary watching your family go through this.

"We haven't had a full night's sleep in six weeks.

"Emily still gets an attack maybe once or twice a night."

Mrs McCrory said Emily started coughing at the start of the Easter holidays and after it worsened and after Adam also became ill, they both went to the doctor.

Two weeks later whooping cough was diagnosed.

The doctor took a swab.

"The swab went away, came back and I got a phone call from the PHA (Public Health Agency)," she said.

The family was put on antibiotics.

Neither Mrs McCrory nor the couple's seven and 10-year-old sons contracted the disease.

'You thought you were suffocating'

Adam McCrory said he had pneumonia in the past "and I thought that was bad, but it was nothing like this."

"This one's different, it won't let you get a breath at all - it expels all your air and then it won't let you bring it back in again.

"It was definitely scary, you thought you were suffocating."

"It can just come on you unexpectantly," he added.

Mrs McCrory said she remains concerned about her daughter.

"It's been extremely frightening from a mother's point of view - it's given me weeks of desperate anxiety," she said.

"I won't sleep because I'm afraid of Emily maybe struggling when I'm asleep, so I'm going to her room and checking on her and watching her - it's desperate," she added.

What is whooping cough?

The first signs are similar to a cold, with a runny nose and sore throat.

After about a week, the infection can develop into coughing bouts that last a few minutes and are typically worse at night.

Young babies may make a distinctive "whoop" or have difficulty breathing after a bout of coughing.

whooping cough
The bacterial infection spreads through coughs and sneezes [Getty Images]

The bacterial infection spreads through coughs and sneezes.

People of all ages can catch whooping cough, but it is most serious for young children and babies.

Cases are also on the rise in the rest of the UK and have caused the death of five babies in England.

Known as pertussis or "100-day cough", the infection is a cyclical disease with peaks seen every three to five years.

On Thursday, the PHA said an increases in cases of the illness was due in 2020 but was prevented by Covid lockdown measures.

'It's here and it's very serious'

Mrs McCrory said she would fear what could happen to vulnerable people if they got the illness.

"Emily's a strong wee girl and she's never had anything really in her life and Adam would be strong and never really gets too sick and I've seen how it affects those two," she said.

"I would dread to see an older person or anybody with anything underlying," she added.

She urged anyone with symptoms to get them checked out.

"I would urge anyone if they've got a cough and it's a wheeze and a gasp - don't hesitate, go straight away and get the swab," she said.

"It's very distinguishable, it's very unique as a cough," she added.