Learn more about the symptoms, causes, treatment of this highly contagious, vaccine-preventable lung infection.
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. In many people, it's marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like "whoop."
Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease. Now whooping cough primarily affects children too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations and teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded.
Deaths associated with whooping cough are rare but most commonly occur in infants. That's why it's so important for pregnant women — and other people who will have close contact with an infant — to be vaccinated against whooping cough.
Once you become infected with whooping cough, it takes about seven to 10 days for signs and symptoms to appear, though it can sometimes take longer. They're usually mild at first and resemble those of a common cold:
After a week or two, signs and symptoms worsen. Thick mucus accumulates inside your airways, causing uncontrollable coughing. Severe and prolonged coughing attacks may:
However, many people don't develop the characteristic whoop. Sometimes, a persistent hacking cough is the only sign that an adolescent or adult has whooping cough.
Infants may not cough at all. Instead, they may struggle to breathe, or they may even temporarily stop breathing.
Call your doctor if prolonged coughing spells cause you or your child to:
Whooping cough is caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny germ-laden droplets are sprayed into the air and breathed into the lungs of anyone who happens to be nearby.
The whooping cough vaccine you receive as a child eventually wears off. This leaves most teenagers and adults susceptible to the infection during an outbreak — and there continue to be regular outbreaks.
Infants who are younger than age 12 months who are unvaccinated or haven't received the full set of recommended vaccines have the highest risk for severe complications and death.
Teens and adults often recover from whooping cough with no problems. When complications occur, they tend to be side effects of the strenuous coughing, such as:
In infants — especially those under 6 months of age — complications from whooping cough are more severe and may include:
Because infants and toddlers are at greatest risk of complications from whooping cough, they're more likely to need treatment in a hospital. Complications can be life-threatening for infants younger than 6 months old.
The best way to prevent whooping cough is with the pertussis vaccine, which doctors often give in combination with vaccines against two other serious diseases — diphtheria and tetanus. Doctors recommend beginning vaccination during infancy.
The vaccine consists of a series of five injections, typically given to children at these ages:
Side effects of the vaccine are usually mild and may include a fever, crankiness, headache, fatigue or soreness at the site of the injection.
If you've been exposed to someone who has whooping cough, your doctor may recommend antibiotics to protect against infection if you:
Diagnosing whooping cough in its early stages can be difficult because the signs and symptoms resemble those of other common respiratory illnesses, such as a cold, the flu or bronchitis.
Sometimes, doctors can diagnose whooping cough simply by asking about symptoms and listening to the cough. Medical tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Such tests may include:
Infants are typically hospitalized for treatment because whooping cough is more dangerous for that age group. If your child can't keep down liquids or food, intravenous fluids may be necessary. Your child will also be isolated from others to prevent the infection from spreading.
Treatment for older children and adults usually can be managed at home.
Antibiotics kill the bacteria causing whooping cough and help speed recovery. Exposed family members may be given preventive antibiotics.
Unfortunately, not much is available to relieve the cough. Over-the-counter cough medicines, for instance, have little effect on whooping cough and are discouraged.
The following tips on dealing with coughing spells apply to anyone being treated for whooping cough at home:
If you think you or your child has whooping cough, make an appointment with your family doctor or pediatrician. Severe symptoms may warrant a visit to an urgent care center or a hospital's emergency department.
You may want to write a list that includes:
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and will use a stethoscope to listen closely to your lungs. Questions your doctor may ask include:
December 22nd, 2020