Whooping Cough FAQs
Whooping cough (Pertussis) is highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by a bacteria (Bordetella pertussis). The first outbreaks were described in the 16th Century. The bacteria, Bordetella pertussis was not isolated until 1906! There are an estimated 300,000 plus deaths annually from whooping cough (pertussis).
Pertussis is whooping cough's medical name. It is the "P" in the DPT vaccine for children. Pertussis commonly affects infants and young children, but can be prevented with immunization with the vaccine. Immunity from DPT wears off, so many teenagers and adults get pertussis, first as coughing spasms and then a stubborn dry cough lasting up to 6-8 weeks.
Treatment of pertussis is supportive and many young infants need hospitalization if the coughing becomes severe. Immunization with DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccine provides protection.
With pertussis, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or, if you are metrically inclined, a gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure). Have your child immunized!
The first stage (catarrhal) of pertussis is characterized by the insidious onset of the following;
It is during the second stage (paroxysmal) that the diagnosis of pertussis is usually suspected. The second stage is characterized by the following:
In the convalescent stage, recovery is gradual. The cough becomes less paroxysmal and disappears over 2 to 3 weeks. However, paroxysms often recur with subsequent respiratory infections for many months after the onset of pertussis.
Pertussis in adults
Complications of pertussis
Some of the above information has ben provided with the kind permission of the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov).
Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004