by KImberly Allen R.N.
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria bordetella pertusis. It is called whooping cough because of the distinct sound made when the child coughs. The sound is very distinct and once you’ve heard it you can easily recognize it and distinguish between a child with a cold and one with whooping cough. Whooping cough is highly contagious and easily transmitted. It is transmitted like a cold, in tiny moisture droplets that are expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets if infected will in turn contaminate or infect everything and anything in it’s path.
Whooping cough begins like a cold or respiratory infection. For the first week or two the child has a runny nose, maybe a low grade fever with an occasional mild cough. Then the cough progresses to bursts of coughing episodes. These coughing burst will increase in frequency over the next week or two. It is during these frequent coughing bursts that the child demonstrates increased respiratory distress. Infants and very young children may appear especially distressed and may become cyanotic due to the lack of oxygen. The child will be exhausted and may even vomit after a coughing episode so it is also important to avoid dehydration. The coughing attacks tend to be more frequent at night. These episodes of coughing bursts last from 1-3 weeks, however, they can persist for up to 10 weeks. It is during this time that the diagnosis of whooping cough is usually made.
Recovering from whooping cough is long and slow. The coughing slowly disappears over 2-3 weeks. However, the child may have recurring episodes followed by respiratory infections for several months.
Antibiotic therapy can be helpful in decreasing the severity if the disease if administered early. Unfortunately most are not diagnosed in time for the antibiotics to have any benefit. To date there are no proven treatments effective in managing the coughing bursts. Treatment is aimed at keeping the child comfortable. Humidifiers and humidifier tents have been useful to help loosen the thick mucous making it easier for the child to cough it up and open the airway.
It is the potential complications of whooping cough that cause the most concern. The most common being bacterial pneumonia. This secondary infection is caused by a different bacteria than the whooping cough. Infants under 6months are at the greatest risk for complications, including seizures and encephalopathy and even death.
Adults can also get whooping cough, however, it is usually milder than in children. The coughing may last as long but is usually less severe. Though the disease may be milder in adults they are just as contagious ans should avoid contact with others, especially young children and the elderly.
The incidence of whooping cough has been steadily increasing in recent years. The best way to avoid whooping cough is through vaccination. The DPT (diptheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccine. The vaccine has been improved over the years and is now called the T/dap vaccine. This vaccine wears off after 10 years and requires boosters through the teen and adult years to maintain adequate protection.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.