Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

A Vaccine Preventable Illness

Identification and Definition

Pertussis, or Whooping Cough, is a highly contagious disease that infects the respiratory tract. Most serious for young children under the age of one, Whooping Cough starts out with the symptoms of a common cold, and as it develops can stop babies from breathing. Luckily, this disease can be stopped in its tracks by a vaccine recommended to pregnant women in their third semester as well as infants starting at 2 months.

History of Whooping Cough

First recognized in the middle ages, the bacteria for Whooping Cough, Bordetella pertussis, wasn't identified until 1906. Before vaccines were created, there were over 250,000 cases per year in the USA with around 9,000 deaths. The vaccine was created in the early 1940's and by 1976, the number of incidences of Whooping Cough had decreased by over 99%.

Signs and Symptoms

Early Symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea-pause in breathing (in babies)
  • Low-grade fever

Later Symptoms:

  • Fits of many, rapid coughs followed by high-pitched "whoop"
  • Vomiting after or during coughing fits
  • Exhaustion after coughing fits

Recovery lasts about 2-3 weeks were patient is susceptible to other infections. Coughing fits will gradually lessen over time.

Transmission of Whooping Cough

Caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis, Whooping Cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease. The bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) in the upper respiratory system and release toxins which cause the airways to swell.

Whooping Cough is a highly contagious disease that is only transferred from person to person usually through coughing or sneezing in their close vicinity. Babies are usually infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who aren't vaccinated and might not know they have the disease.

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Complications of Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough can be the cause of very serious and sometimes fatal problems for babies and young children. Of babies under 1 year old who get Whooping Cough, about 50% need hospital care.

Complications such as:

  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • Encephalophathy (disease of the brain)
  • Death (1%)

-10 to 20 deaths in the US per year

Although teens and adults can also suffer from complications of Whooping Cough, they aren't usually as serious.

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Passing out
  • Rib fractures from severe coughing

Recommended Control Measures for Whooping Cough

  • Whooping Cough can be prevented with the DTaP for children under 7 and DdaP teens and adults
  • DTaP prevents three diseases: diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis (Whooping Cough)
  • DTaP protects children for about 5 years
  • One person with Whooping Cough can infect up to 12-15 people
  • Increase in reports of the disease every 3-5 years

What Whooping Cough Sounds Like

Central Leader - Whooping Cough