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May 2018

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Whooping Cough

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Whooping Cough

Post by AlleyRose on Fri Apr 04, 2014 9:05 pm

Whooping cough can affect you at any age if you're not immune to the disease, but the condition is most worrying in young babies.

Key points

  • Caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
  • Starts with cold-like symptoms, moving to coughing fits. Coughing commonly followed by vomiting and gagging.
  • Can be fatal for children aged under six months.
  • There is a vaccine, but infants aren't usually immunised until two months of age.

Whooping cough is a serious infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis (hence the medical name for the disease, pertussis).
The infection causes severe coughing fits followed by a whooping sound on breathing in and, often, vomiting.
It is particularly serious for children aged up to two years of age, but especially infants less than six months where it can be fatal.
In this age range, between 0.5 and 1 per cent of children who catch whooping cough die from the disease, but the outlook improves in older children.
Unfortunately, the immunity we get when we are vaccinated against whooping cough is not life-long.
This means adults who catch whooping cough after their childhood vaccinations have worn off are becoming an increased source of infection for newborns (the infant vaccination program for whooping cough doesn't usually start until two months of age).

Signs and symptoms
Once we become infected, the bacteria incubates in our bodies for 7-10 days.
After this incubation period, the first symptoms of whooping cough appear. In this early stage the disease appears similar to the common cold:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • mild cough
  • no fever

After about two weeks, your child will begin to have coughing fits:

  • They will usually have five to 10 violent coughs in a row.
  • These will be followed, especially in smaller children, by a 'whooping' sound as they try to breath in.
  • The coughing is often followed by vomiting and gagging.

If a child is experiencing this cycle of coughing, followed by vomiting and gagging it makes it much more likely that they have whooping cough, as opposed to another type of coughing illness.
This coughing cycle can happen many times an hour, 24 hours a day. Your child can run short of oxygen with bluish lips, tongue and fingers during and after the coughing spasm. When this happens, children can become completely exhausted and even stop breathing.

Course and duration
The coughing phase can last up to six weeks. When added to the early common cold-like phase and later on the recovery phase, the whole illness can take up to three months from beginning to end.

Spread of infection
Infection is spread by droplets in the air that come from the nose and mouth, especially when someone coughs.

Infectious period
Children with whooping cough are most infectious to others when they have a runny nose, sneezing and mild coughing.
However, children can still be infectious when they first start having coughing fits.

If your child is so sick they cannot eat or drink, they may need hospital care to receive oxygen and intravenous fluids.
Pneumonia can complicate whooping cough, and this combination is the most common reason children with whooping cough die. Whooping cough pneumonia can be further complicated by brain damange and seizures.

Treatment is largely aimed at relieving symptoms of the disease rather than treating the source of the infection – the Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
Preparations which supress the cough are not usually recommended because suppressing the child's cough can also reduce their natural drive to breath.
Generally antibiotics do not make the disease less severe or shorten its duration, so if your child is given antibiotics it's to make them less infectious to others rather than to make them feel better.
All close family members who have had contact with an infected child are given antibiotics for the same reason.

Vaccination is the most effective way to protect children against the infection.
But infants initially need three doses of vaccine to receive the best protection, and the first of these is not usually given until they are two months old. Before this time they are at a much greater risk of contracting whooping cough.
To reduce this risk, revaccination for the parents, grandparents and carers of newborns has sometimes been recommended.
Of course, good hygiene will also help to stop the spread of the disease. Simple measures include covering your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when you cough and regularly washing your hands.

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