Whooping Cough Symptoms

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough (also named pertussis) is a term that is used to describe the infectious disease caused by small Gram-negative bacteria named Bordetella pertussis. The term "whooping cough" is based on the characteristic noise made as the person at the end of a coughing attack that sounds like a high-pitched "whoop" as the person tries to suck in a breath. The disease is transferred from person to person by bacteria-contaminated droplets formed during a coughing spell; however, the disease may be prevented by vaccinations.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Symptoms of whooping cough vary. Early in the infection, the symptoms resemble those of a cold;

However, in contrast to a cold, the symptoms persist and worsen over about one to two weeks. Mucus in the airways thickens, the coughing becomes worse and may cause the person to vomit, become extremely fatigued and during the prolonged coughing spell, the person's face may become discolored (reddish or bluish) due to coughing effort and the lack of good air movement. The whooping sound occurs as the person tries to move a volume of air through partially occluded airways. Not all people with whooping cough will produce the whooping sound, but the vast majority of patients will have a prolonged (about 2 to 3 weeks, with some as long as 10 weeks) hacking cough. Some infants may have a minimal cough, but some experience short periods of apnea (no breathing).

Is there a vaccine for whooping cough?

Infants and toddlers are at the greatest risk for complications (ear and lung infections, dehydration, seizures, brain damage, or death). About 50% of children less than one year old need hospitalization if they are infected with pertussis. The best way to prevent babies from contracting this disease is by vaccination (at 2, 4, 6, and 15 to 18 months old, followed by a booster at about 4 to 6 years old).

Because immunity wanes, another booster shot is recommended at age 11 and then every 10 years as an adult. Pregnant women should get a pertussis vaccine shot at 20 weeks gestation to protect their infant during its first few months of life.

People that are vaccinated against whooping cough markedly reduce the chance of transmitting the disease to others; especially to infants who may not have developed a strong immunity to the disease.

Avoid getting (or giving) the symptoms of whooping cough. Get vaccinated!

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Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCE: CDC.gov. Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Signs and Symptoms.