Whooping cough (pertussis) is still a very serious disease when it occurs in children under the age of one year old. But thanks to an effective vaccine and prevention against infection, it is now quite rare . Before the vaccination against whooping cough was introduced, three out of four children caught the disease and some died every year. Today only a few get whooping cough.
Whooping cough is characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a “whooping” sound when the person breathes in. It’s mainly affected infants who are younger than 6 months old before they are adequately protected by their immunizations, and kids who are 11 to 18 years old whose immunity has faded.
Although whooping cough can occur at any age, it’s most severe in unimmunized children and in infants under 1 year of age (early immunization can usually prevent this serious disease in babies).
Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria Bordetella pertussis which is transmitted through droplets of respiratory secretions that are coughed or sneezed into the air by someone who’s already infected and is one of the most communicable bacterial infections but the possibility of spreading the illness remains until the infection clears completely. The infection is transferred through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs. Anyone who has not been vaccinated is highly likely to reduce the disease just by spending time in the same room as an infected person.
Anyone who has been vaccinated or has suffered from whooping cough will have a degree of immunity to the disease. They may contract a mild case some years later but this will not develop into a full-blown attack. Persons treated with antibiotics are infectious until the first 5 days of appropriate antibiotic treatment have been completed.
Once inside your airways, the bacteria multiply and produce toxins that interfere with your respiratory tract’s ability to sweep away germs. Thick fluid develops deep inside your airways, causing uncontrollable coughing.
Once you become infected with the bacterium that causes whooping cough, it takes a few days to a few weeks for signs and symptoms to appear. When they do, they’re usually mild at first and resemble those of a common cold, such as:
Coughing attacks – up to 15 coughs in a row – that end with a high-pitched whoop sound as you struggle for air. These may be so severe that your child vomits or turns red or blue from the effort. Severe coughing can result in tiny red spots caused by split in blood vessels at the skin’s surface (petechiae) in your upper body, as well as small areas of bleeding in the whites of your eyes.
In adults, signs and symptoms of whooping cough may resemble those of bronchitis, a respiratory infection that causes a annoying cough.
Treatment for whooping cough varies, depending on your age and the severity of signs and symptoms.
When whooping cough is diagnosed early in older children, teenagers and adults, doctors usually prescribe bed rest along with an antibiotic such as azithromycin or erythromycin.
Almost all infants with whooping cough who are younger than 2 months, as well as many older babies, are admitted to the hospital to help decrease the risk of serious complications of the disease. Most babies treated for whooping cough overcome the condition without lasting effects, but the risk exists until the infection clears
Many experts believe that the medication is most effective in shortening the infection when it’s given in the first stage of the illness, before coughing spells begin.