Whooping cough is a common childhood virus that can be prevented with vaccination.
Pertussis, or “whooping cough”, is a highly infectious disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It is a serious illness which can cause permanent disability or even death, particularly in very young children.
There are 3 stages to this disease
- Catarrhal Stage: this is the first stage, which has mild cold symptoms – sneezing, congestion, mild cough. This stage is highly contagious with droplets spread in the air by coughing.
- Paroxysmal Stage: this is the second stage, during which time the cough becomes more harsh and severe. Spasms of cough occur in groups of repetitive spells, ending with a deep breath causing the “whoop”. These episodes can cause vomiting and hypoxia resulting in brain damage or even death in infants and young children. This stage can last from 1-4 weeks.
- Convalescent Stage: this is the final stage, during which time the cough slowly resolves and episodes become less and less frequent. In older children and adults, this cough can linger for a prolonged period. Although the cough persists during this period, people are not usually infectious at this point.
Treatment for Pertussis
The disease severity is improved if the patient receives antibiotics during the catarrhal stage. Starting treatment after the catarrhal phase does not change the course of the disease, but it can prevent further spread by eradicating the remaining bacteria in the body. In infants and young children in particular, supportive care may be required – frequent suctioning of thick mucous, hydration and, in severe cases, intubation and hospitalization may be required.
Prevention of Whooping Cough
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated with the DTaP vaccine, a combination vaccine that also includes diphtheria and tetanus. The routine vaccination schedule is to receive DTaP at 2, 4, 6, 15-18 months and 4-6 years old, as well as additional boosters at 10-11 years old and every 10 years after that. In 50% of cases of infantile pertussis, the most dangerous age group, one of the parents had it and didn’t know that they had it . Therefore, parents and caregivers should receive pertussis vaccine (Tdap) boosters.
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