What Is whooping cough?

Whooping cough also known as pertussis is a highly contagious cough condition caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. While it is usually not a major concern for adults, it can be fatal to infants and children who haven't yet received their pertussis vaccine.
Whooping cough also known as pertussis is a highly contagious cough condition caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. While it is usually not a major concern for adults, it can be fatal to infants and children who haven’t yet received their pertussis vaccine.

Whooping cough is also called pertussis. It is a highly contagious cough condition caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It is named for the “whoop” sound that is made when coughing

Whooping cough is not a major concern for adults. It can be fatal to infants and children who haven’t yet received their pertussis vaccine.

Signs and symptoms of whooping cough in adults

Whooping cough symptoms in adults present as the common cold during the incubation period, which typically lasts from one week to 10 days. 

This initial stage of the illness is called the catarrhal stage. You usually have a low-grade fever, mild cough, and runny nose. In the first couple of weeks, you usually won’t know that you have whooping cough because its symptoms are so mild. 

As whooping cough persists, your cough gets increasingly worse. Now you enter the paroxysmal stage. 

You have coughing fits that end in the common whoop sound. This sound is the clearest sign that you have whooping cough. You may vomit during these coughing fits or feel exhausted afterward. 

You are contagious for two to three weeks during this stage of the illness. The reason that Pertussis causes a unique cough is that you cough rapidly until there is no air left in your lungs. This causes a shortness of breath

When there is a break in coughing and you inhale, you hear the whooping sound. 

The final, or convalescent, stage of whooping cough begins about four weeks after the onset of your symptoms. The recovery from whooping cough is slow and can last for weeks.

In countries without adequate medical care, whooping cough is known as the 100-day cough because its symptoms are so long-lasting.

SLIDESHOW

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Causes of whooping cough in adults

Pertussis is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It is highly contagious and spreads through the air through the tiny droplets that spray when an infected person coughs

Once you are infected with whooping cough, you are contagious for two to three weeks, making it easy to spread the bacteria to others.

Diagnosis for whooping cough in adults

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose whooping cough.

Your doctor will complete a physical exam to assess your symptoms. A nasal swab will confirm your diagnosis by testing for the bacteria that causes whooping cough. 

Since whooping cough looks like the common cold at first, your doctor may suggest you rest and take over-the-counter (OTC) medication to treat your symptoms. If your cough worsens, call your doctor again for further examination. 

Additional lab work will confirm or rule out other medical conditions affecting your upper respiratory tract. In some cases, you may have one these illnesses in addition to whooping cough:

Acute Bronchitis: This is inflammation of the bronchi and bronchial tubes. A bronchitis cough may be persistent. It won’t cause the whooping sound that pertussis does. 

Influenza: Since the flu is viral instead of bacterial, an antibiotic won’t help with your symptoms. 

Bordetella parapertussis and Bordetella bronchiseptica: These two bacteria are very similar to pertussis and cause similar symptoms.

Treatments for whooping cough

Your doctor will assess your overall health and the severity of your symptoms before creating a treatment plan. Other medical conditions or medications have an impact on what your doctor can prescribe to treat whooping cough.

Medication 

Antibiotics are the best way to kill the bacteria that causes whooping cough. This is especially true if they are given within three weeks of the onset of your symptoms. 

It is common with whooping cough for your symptoms to continue for a long time. At the least, an antibiotic will ensure that you are no longer contagious. This only takes five days after beginning your treatment.

At home treatment

You can take measures at home to speed up your healing process:

  • Stay warm
  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Treat your symptoms with OTC medication 

It is also important to avoid activities that activate your cough. 

Talk as little as possible and stay away from irritants like smoke and chemicals. Don’t get stressed or excited or you may trigger a coughing fit. If your lungs don’t rest and heal, you can cause lasting damage to your body. 

Hospitalization

While infants and young children are more frequently hospitalized for whooping cough, some adults can also experience severe cases.

In the hospital your treatment will likely include:

  • Intravenous (IV) therapy to replace fluids
  • Suctioning of your throat and lungs to remove excessive mucus buildup
  • Oxygen to allow your lungs to rest instead of working harder to oxygenate your body

Vaccination

Even if you’ve already contracted whooping cough, it is important to get the vaccine. 

Pertussis is treated as part of the Tdap shot, which also treats tetanus and diphtheria

Infants and young children under 7 cannot receive the vaccine. You can get the Tdap vaccine, because it helps protect those most at-risk for dangerous symptoms.

QUESTION

Which illness is known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection? See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 2/19/2021
References
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in Adults."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Pertussis (Whooping Cough)."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Tdap VIS."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Pertussis."