Whooping cough or pertussis is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing episodes. The cough can be intense that it might cause the individual to choke or vomit. The name is derived from the sound produced when a breath is taken after a coughing episode.
What are the indications?
This condition typically starts with symptoms that are similar to common cold such as congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and mild fever.
Unlike with common cold which usually lasts a week up to 10 days, the symptoms can last for about 2 weeks among those who have not been vaccinated. These symptoms might not last as long among those who were given the vaccine.
This is followed by a dry hack-like cough that starts and progresses into extended coughing contractions. These cough spasms can be powerful that it is hard for the individual to catch their breath and even vomiting can also occur. The coughing episodes are often followed by an evident “whooping” sound when the individual catches his/her breath. In most cases, this phase lasts between 2-6 weeks.
The possible complications of whooping cough include emphysema, pneumonia, vomiting, weight loss, bleeding in the brain, seizures and even infection of the lining of the brain in rare cases.
How does whooping cough affect children?
Among infants, the condition is quite severe particularly those below 3 months of age. Children below 3 months with pertussis require hospitalization and many between 3-6 months will be admitted as well. Nevertheless, the disease is more serious among young children since the child can actually suffocate from the coughing episodes.
Since whooping cough is a bacterial infection, it is managed using antibiotics. It is also highly contagious and affected family members might be treated with antibiotics as well. Any individual who has been diagnosed must be quarantined for 5 days after antibiotics are started and contact to infants younger than 3 months old must be avoided.
Due to the advancements in immunizations practices, the condition is rare in developed countries. It is sad to note that the cases are increasing again. It is believed that immunizations during childhood might not provide enough immunity for longer than 10 years, thus there are now recommendations on adults to receive a booster vaccine.