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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

What is whooping cough (pertussis)?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, mainly affects infants and young children. Caused by a bacterium, it is characterized by paroxysms (intense fits or spells) of coughing that end with the characteristic whoop as air is inhaled. Whooping cough caused thousands of deaths in the 1930s and 1940s, but, with the advent of a vaccine, the rate of death has declined dramatically. Even though pertussis vaccines are very effective, if pertussis is circulating in the community, there is a possibility that a fully vaccinated person can catch the disease.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

The disease starts like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and sometimes a mild cough or fever. Usually after one to two weeks, severe coughing begins. The following are the most common symptoms of whooping cough. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

•    coughing (violently and rapidly, until all the air has left the lungs and a person is forced to inhale, causing a “whooping” sound

•    sneezing

•    nasal discharge

•    fever

•    sore, watery eyes

•    whooping

•    lips, tongue, and nailbeds may turn blue during coughing spells

Whooping cough can last up to 10 weeks and can lead to pneumonia.

The symptoms of whooping cough may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Treatment for whooping cough:

Specific treatment for whooping cough will be determined by your physician based on:

•    your overall health and medical history

•    extent of the condition

•    your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

•    expectations for the course of the condition

•    your opinion or preference