An unpleasant cough that lingers for several weeks is affecting thousands of patients this winter, doctors in Wales and across the country have warned.
Hacking cough, unlike whooping cough, cannot be treated with antibiotics or other medicine as it is likely to be a residual symptom of other conditions, health officials told The Independent.
John Oxford, professor of virology at the University of London, said the outbreak was likely to be caused by adenovirus – the microbe behind conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia and gastroenteritis. Adenovirus can survive at body temperature and can push down into the lungs, causing a chesty cough that can remain long after other symptoms have eased.
“I am in the unusual place of having had the hacking cough myself over the Christmas break,” Professor Oxford told The Independent.
“You can still hear some lovely examples on the tube or in the theatre. Adenovirus tops the bill because of its prolonged nature in adults.
“A tip is to improve hand hygiene to stop spread to others and to your own eyes. Otherwise it is a question of staying indoors in the warm because cold air soon stirs up the cough reflux.”
Doctors in Wales have reported a “high number of people suffering with a prolonged, hacking cough that is lasting longer than usual,” said the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.
But there is little GPs can do to help as antibiotics have no effect on the viruses behind the cough, according to the board, which is urging sufferers to stay at home and avoid clogging up services.
“We know there is a particularly nasty, persistent cough in the community that lasts a number of weeks and is leading a lot of people to attend their GP surgery,” said GP Anna Kuczynska, according to the health board.
“Unfortunately, in most cases, unless the patient has another underlying chronic condition for example, heart or lung disease or diabetes, there is often nothing the GP can do to help other than recommend resting and drinking plenty of fluids.”
Queen Elizabeth II, who had to miss a number of public Christmas celebrations due to a heavy cold, could still be suffering from a hacking cough, reported The Mirror.
Clare Gerada, former head of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said there was a nasty virus going round at the moment.
“We are seeing an awful lot of people this winter with a virus that is more severe than a normal cold, almost a type of bronchitis,” Ms Gerada told The Telegraph.
“It’s taking three to four weeks for people to completely recover, and the length of time the Queen has been ill would be in keeping with that.”
Official NHS advice says most coughs clear up within three weeks, but persistent coughs can be caused by long-term respiratory tract infections, allergies or in some cases, more serious diseases such as lung cancer or tuberculosis.
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if a cough lasts for more than three weeks.
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