Whooping Cough

What is Whooping Cough


Whooping Cough Can Be Serious, But It Is Preventable

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a respiratory disease that is highly contagious. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis and can affect people of all ages, but it is especially serious in babies less than a year old.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough usually has two stages. About five to ten days after exposure to someone who has whooping cough, a person may notice cold-like symptoms. It is common to have a runny nose, a very mild fever, and a mild cough during this stage. Then, a week or two later, the more characteristic cough appears. A person often has fits of coughing that take all of the air from the lungs. When they take a deep breath after coughing, a high pitched “whoop” sound will ensue. It is also common for an infected individual to vomit from the coughing fits. As one might expect, the coughing is exhausting for the patient. The cough can last for up to ten weeks.

Diagnosis of Whooping Cough

A doctor can often diagnose whooping cough simply based on the symptoms, especially if a patient knows that they have been exposed to someone with the disease. To properly diagnose the disease, a sample of mucus may be taken from the back of a patient’s throat to isolate the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. Similarly, blood tests can also be used for positive whooping cough diagnosis.

Treatment of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is usually treated with antibiotics, and the earlier the medications are started, the more likely they are to be effective. Antibiotics that are started after three weeks are unlikely to be beneficial because the bacteria has already done damage to the body, and it is gone. In addition to following the medication schedule from the doctor, it is important not to give your child any additional cough medicines as they are not likely to be effective and are not recommended. Plenty of fluids such as water, juice, and soups are recommended to prevent dehydration and a cool mist humidifier may also help the patient to breathe more easily. Small, frequent meals are best to help prevent vomiting.

Complications of Whooping Cough

While whooping cough is more likely to cause complications in babies and young children, even teens and adults can suffer some further problems. Babies who are less than a year old are likely to be hospitalized when they contract whooping cough. Additional complications can include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Convulsions – severe shaking
  • Apnea – cessation or slowing of breathing
  • Encephalopathy – brain disease
  • Death

Older children, teens and adults are less likely to need to be hospitalized with whooping cough though it is still possible. Nonetheless, it is common for these individuals to fracture a rib during the violent coughing fits. In addition, they may experience weight loss, loss of bladder control, and/or passing out.

Prevention of Whooping Cough

Vaccination for whooping cough is recommended for most children with booster vaccines available for adults. While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, it is less likely that an immunized person will get whooping cough and, if they do, the case is likely to be more mild. It is important to follow the vaccination schedule set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Additionally, those that know they have been exposed to the disease may be given prophylactic antibiotics in hopes of preventing an outbreak. This is important for those that are at high risk for developing complications from whooping cough. Finally, it is important that good hygiene practices are in place at all times. Since whooping cough is spread through contact and through the air, washing hands and surfaces often is likely to help control the spread of the disease.