Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping Cough
Whooping Cough

Overview Of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a very contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it difficult to breathe. A deep “whooping” sound is typically heard when the person tries to take a breath.

Commonly Associated With

Whooping cough

Causes Of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Pertussis is an upper respiratory infection, which is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It is a serious disease that can affect people of all ages. Pertussis can cause permanent disability in infants and even death.

When a person infected with Pertussis sneezes or coughs, small droplets carrying the bacteria move into the air. The disease spreads easily from one person to another. Although the symptoms of infection often last 6 weeks, they can also last as long as 10 weeks.

Symptoms Of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

The initial symptoms of Pertussis are similar to the common cold. In the majority of cases, they develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria, while severe episodes of coughing start about 10 to 12 days later. In infants and young children, coughing sometimes ends with a “whoop” noise. The sound appears when the person tries to take a breath. The noise is rare in infants under 6 months of age, older children, and adults.

Coughing spells may result in vomiting or a short loss of consciousness. Always consider pertussis when vomiting occurs in conjunction with coughing. In infants, choking spells and long pauses in breathing are also common.

Other pertussis symptoms include the following:

  • Runny nose
  • Slight fever, 102°F (38.9°C) or lower
  • Diarrhea

Exams & Tests

The initial diagnosis of pertussis is most often based on the symptoms. However, when the symptoms are not obvious, it may be difficult to diagnose. In very young infants, it is possible for pneumonia to cause the symptoms instead.

To know for certain, the health care provider may take a sample of mucus from the nasal secretions. The sample is then sent to a lab and tested for pertussis. While this can offer an accurate diagnosis, the test may take some time. In most cases, treatment will start before the results are ready. Some people may have a complete blood count (CBC) that shows large numbers of lymphocytes.

Treatment For Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away faster. Unfortunately, most people are diagnosed too late when the antibiotics aren’t very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the person’s ability to spread the disease to other individuals.

Infants younger than 18 months require constant supervision. This is because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Hospitalize infants experiencing severe cases. Doctors may use an oxygen tent with high humidity in some cases. Give fluids through a vein if coughing spells are severe enough to prevent the person from drinking sufficient fluids. Sedatives, or medicines to make you sleepy, may be prescribed for young children. Cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are typically not helpful. Do NOT use these medicines.