by Kimnberly Allen, RN
Pertussis, more commonly known as the whooping cough, is a highly contagious, acute respiratory infection. Pertussis is most commonly diagnosed in infants and young children or in older children/teens whose immunity from their childhood vaccine has begun to fade. Adults can also develop pertussis because the immunitry from childhood vaccines demminishes over time. In the US pertussis killed up to 10,000 people every year before the vaccine became available. With the development of the vaccine deaths from pertussis have gone down to around 30. However, in recent years the number of diagnosed cases of pertussis has been steadily increasing and is now up to around 30,000 cases per year in the US.
With the increase in cases of pertussis there has also been an increase in the umber of deaths related to pertussis. Only two years ago there was an epidemic in California that resulted in 10 infant deaths. Experts estimate that pertussis currently affects approximately 50 million people and results in approximately 300,000 deaths every year worldwide.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection. It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium. These bacteria invade your childs airway in the same manor as viruses like the flu. The bacteria are in the tiny droplets if moisture that is release when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even exhales forcefully like when laughing. The tiny droplets then land on anything and everything on the area. Then when your child touches the contaminated surface and then touches his/her face or puts something in their mouth and the bcteria enter the respiratory tract.
One of the reasons pertusssis is so dangerous and can become an epidemic very quickly is that people who are infected do not develop symptoms until 7-10 days after becoming infected, but they have been highly contagious during those 7-10days. So they are spreading the illness without knowing they have it. Even when symptoms do develop in the early stages when it is the most contagious many people don’t realize they have pertussis.
Pertussis develops in stages, the first stage is referred to as the catarrhal stage. This stage usually lasts 1-2 weeks and the symptoms are similar to those of a common cold, sneezing with a runny nose, mild cough and low-grade fever. The second stage begins after 1-2 weeks of infection with the cough becoming more severe. Your child will begin to bursts of several quick coughs in an effort to expell mucous from their airways. The episodes of coughing bursts will increase for a week or so and then stay steady for 2-3 weekks before begining to slowly decrease in frequency. These bursts of coughing are usually followed by a long inspiration of air that causes the characteristic whooping sound which is why pertussis is also called the whooping cough. Your child may also get a bluish tint to his/her skin during the coughing episodes due to a lack of oxygen. Many children will throw up and are exhausted after a coughing episode.
The coughing attacks generally occur more often at night, most children average 15-24 coughing episodes in 24 hours. This stage can last from 1-6 weeks, however it has been known to last as long as 10 weeks. The third stage of pertussis is the recovery phase. Recovery is a slow process as the cough gradually disappear.
Antibiotics are the recommended treatment for pertussis. They can not only be effective against the Bordetella pertussis bacterium they can also reduce the risk of the infection being transmitted to other members of the household. Thee are a variety of antibiotics that are effective in treating pertussis, your Dr will discuss which are best for your child.
The best way to prevent pertussis iis through vaccination. The pertussis vaccine is recommended by both the WHO and CDC. However, a recent study by the CDC indicated that the immunity provided by the vaccine may only last 3-6 years. So older children and teens as well as adults should get boosters to maintain their immunity.