Whooping Cough, also known as pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and airways. people of all ages can contract the disease, but it is most severe in infants under the age of 5 years who have not been vaccinated. Babies are especially at high risk of developing long term brain damage from whooping cough, because they are often unable to breathe properly during the coughing spasms. Whooping cough, although only rarely fatal, can often cause serious disability.
The highly contagious whooping cough is spread by direct contact or by inhaling infected particles of the pertussis bacteria. Sneezing and coughing release vast quantities of these infectious droplets. There is a very high risk of catching whooping cough from someone in the same household if they have not been vaccinated recently. The incubation time is usually just over a week or more, so symptoms can be delayed.
The early diagnosis of whooping cough is difficult as it may present symptoms similar to influenza or bronchitis with its cold like effects. The disease progresses from a short dry cough into a more severe cough or coughing fits with the characteristic “whooping” noise (onomatopoeia) as the sufferer makes as they try to suck in air. Older children and adults may not develop the whooping sound, even so they should exclude all contact with babies and infants until they are cough free.
Immediately after a coughing fit the infant may be pale even bluish from lack of oxygen or may even vomit. Hospitalisation may be necessary. Unfortunately some of the complications from whooping cough can be pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and long term lung damage.
Recovery from whooping cough can often be slow; it may even take up to fully develop and it might take you up to 3 months to fully recover. An after effect of whooping cough can be an increased susceptibility to colds for the next 12 months. Hence all adults with whooping cough should be excluded from contact with infants.
Hospitalisation is often necessary for infants. Infants with whooping cough need ongoing supervision. Blood tests and mucus tests may be necessary for diagnosis. Even with antibiotic treatment whooping cough patients may still be contagious for 5 days after the start of the course.
Prevention of whooping cough can be done through immunisation with the dTP vaccination and generally lasts 5 years. Sometimes mild reactions to the vaccination can occur, including mild fever, but the risk of contracting and spreading pertussis with its life threatening complications is far worse than a risk of mild side effects. Immunisation is available at your GP , health clinic or vaccination station (subject to seasonal availability).