Nothing to whoop about

Whooping cough (officially called pertussis) is a serious bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes that spreads easily. It’s easily recognised by the convulsive, spasmodic cough, sometimes followed by a shrill intake of breath.

Whooping cough is one of the targets of the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine. According to the government’s vaccination schedule, your child should be vaccinated against whooping cough at 6, 10 and 14 weeks and again at 18 months.

Worldwide, there are 30–50 million pertussis cases and about 300 000 deaths per year, despite generally high coverage with vaccines. Most deaths occur in young infants who are either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated; three doses of the vaccine are necessary for complete protection against pertussis.
  • Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) and is one of the most contagious bacterial infections.
  • If one child in a group of siblings gets it, the other children are extremely likely to become infected if they have not already had the disease or been vaccinated.
  • Children with a cold or cough should be kept away from non-vaccinated children as well as women in labour and newborn babies.

The symptoms of whooping cough

  • The disease begins with a cold and a mild cough. But after this, the typical coughing bouts set in.
  • The coughing continues until no air is left in the lungs.
  • After this comes a deep intake of breath that produces a heaving, 'whooping' sound when the air passes the larynx (windpipe) that gives rise to the name of the disease.
  • The child will eventually cough up some phlegm and these attacks may well be followed by vomiting.
  • The child's temperature is likely to remain normal.
  • Coughing attacks may occur up to 40 times a day and the disease can last for up to eight weeks.
  • Long spells of coughing may cause vomiting, and broken blood vessels in the eyes and on the skin.
How is it treated?
  • Babies younger than 6 months are likely to need care in a hospital, or even a pediatric ICU.
  • Several of the medicines used in asthma are often used to help control the cough.
  • In addition, pertussis is treated with an antibiotic.
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