Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough in Babies


Whooping Cough Can Be Deadly for Babies

Whooping cough is a very serious, potentially deadly, illness when contracted by a baby. People of any age can suffer from whooping cough, or pertussis, a respiratory disease that causes extreme fits of coughing in patients. A highly contagious disease, whooping cough is spread from contact with the Bordetella pertussis bacteria of the coughs and sneezes of infected individuals and through the air. Babies under one year of age may experience symptoms differently from older children and adults, so it is important to keep them away from any potential sources of the disease, even if they have started the vaccination series since it takes many doses for full protection.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough in Babies

Children under one year of age who are exposed to whooping cough may begin to develop symptoms after five to ten days. The symptoms may appear to be like a common cold with a runny nose, low grade fever, and mild cough. Many babies only have a very slight cough and in some it may be nonexistent. Nevertheless, babies experience a much more serious symptom called apnea. Apnea is a significant slowing or cessation of breathing, particularly during sleep. Additionally, some babies may look like they are gasping for air. Their faces may turn red, and they may stop breathing for a few seconds at this point. This lack of breathing causes babies to turn blue and, while some begin breathing on their own again, others need an external stimulus, or they can die. More than half of all babies who develop whooping cough need hospital care and monitoring.

Diagnosing Whooping Cough in Babies

If a parent suspects that their baby has whooping cough, they should see a doctor at once. The doctor will ask questions to ascertain possible exposure points and do a thorough physical exam of the baby. In addition, mucus samples may be taken from the nose and/or throat to be tested in a laboratory. Blood may also be taken as it can signify the infection and how it is affecting the body. Finally chest x-rays can help the doctor to see the lungs and determine if whooping cough, pneumonia, or another illness may be causing the symptoms.

Treating Whooping Cough in Babies

Many babies who develop whooping cough will need to be hospitalized. In the hospital setting, the baby can be monitored for apnea and irregular breathing so that measures can be taken immediately if necessary. In addition, babies will often be given antibiotics to get rid of the pertussis bacteria. Antibiotics appear to be most effective when they are started early in the progression of the disease. Though they may not help the patient when given later, they can help stop the speed of the disease to others.

Whether babies are in the hospital or at home, it is important to help them stay comfortable. Making sure that they get the appropriate fluids will help prevent dehydration. Keeping the atmosphere clear of irritants like smoke and harsh chemical cleaners plus using a cool mist vaporizer can treat the air, so it is easier for the baby to breathe. Finally, hand washing by all who care for the baby is imperative to stop the spread of the disease.

Complications of Whooping Cough

Babies can experience some severe complications from whooping cough. Apnea and pneumonia are the most common complication of whooping cough for children under the age of one. In addition, some babies experience convulsions, encephalopathy, and death.

Prevention of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough can be prevented by a series of vaccinations. Babies get these at about 2, 4, 6, 12, and 18 months of age. However, until the baby has received all five vaccinations, he is not fully protected and can contract the disease. Prophylactic antibiotics are sometimes given to babies who are known to have been directly exposed to the disease. It is important to report all potential exposures and symptoms to the child’s pediatrician since early detection correlates with a more successful outcome.