Australia could be on the verge of a whooping cough outbreak, and contrary to popular belief, it isn't just a disease for parents of young infants to worry about.
Epidemics of the highly contagious respiratory infection generally occur every three-to-five years and with Australia's most recent serious outbreak occurring in 2015, experts warn we are "well overdue".
Data suggests we could be in for a major outbreak as early as this summer, and experts predict it will threaten infants, children and adults alike.
The Immunisation Foundation of Australia (IFA) launched the inaugural Whooping Cough Day last Wednesday to encourage all Australians to remain up to date with their vaccinations.
University of Sydney paediatrics expert Robert Booy said while other respiratory infections such as influenza and RSV have recently risen to pre-pandemic levels, we haven't yet seen this with whooping cough.
"It's only a matter of time before we see a resurgence of whooping cough, quite possibly in the spring and summer months when infections traditionally spike," Professor Booy said.
"Whooping cough follows a fairly predictable pattern and it's very much the sleeping bear of respiratory infectious disease right now."
Professor Booy said in some years infections have risen to almost 40,000 cases, so it is important to be "alert" to signs of a pending epidemic.
IFA founder Catherine Hughes lost her four-week-old son Riley to the infection in 2015.
She said despite subsequent improvements in prevention of the disease in infants and pregnant women, there is still room for improvement when it comes to the broader community.
"Most people associate whooping cough with babies, but more than half of all cases are reported in adults," Ms Hughes said.
"Whooping cough can be fatal in infants and can cause serious illness in older children and adults.
"This is particularly true for those with asthma who are at four times greater risk of infection and higher risk of being admitted to hospital."
Known as the "100-day cough", whooping cough attacks the airways, causing uncontrollable coughing and breathing difficulties. Coughing fits can be severe enough to cause vomiting, incontinence, broken ribs and hospitalisation.
The infection is more contagious than influenza, measles or COVID-19 and infected people can remain contagious for three weeks or until they complete a course of antibiotics.
Symptoms do not appear immediately, so the disease is easily spread, and more likely to spread through the warmer months.
Professor Booy said Australians should be alert to signs of infection, and be sure to check their vaccination status.
"People with an ongoing cough should practice social distancing and seek immediate medical advice," Professor Booy said.
Adults require a booster shot at least every 10 years to protect themselves from the infection.
Vaccination status can be checked by talking to a doctor, pharmacist or by accessing an Immunisation History Statement through the Express Plus Medicare app.
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