Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection. Although most children receive a vaccination against pertussis, the incidence of this condition has been rising since the 1990s. Captain Darin, can you tell us more about whooping cough?
Definitely, Dr. Connolly. Whooping cough is an upper respiratory infection caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It is characterized by fits of uncontrollable and violent coughing. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when a child with pertussis tries to take a breath between coughing. This condition can be especially dangerous, even deadly, for infants younger than four months.
Whooping cough is spread through tiny air droplets that are released when a person sneezes, coughs, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Symptoms usually appear within seven to 10 days of being exposed to an infected person, but a child can get sick up to 20 days after coming into contact with the bacteria.
A pertussis infection progresses through three stages of illness. During the first stage, which lasts one to two weeks, symptoms may be similar to the common cold. The second stage, which lasts two to eight weeks, is when coughing becomes much more severe and the child may start whooping between coughing. Vomiting after coughing is also common during this stage. The last stage can last several weeks to months, during which the cough slowly subsides.
Children who have been vaccinated against pertussis can still become infected with the bacteria, but their symptoms tend to be less severe and last for a much shorter period of time.
If whooping cough is diagnosed early, antibiotics can make symptoms go away more quickly. Even when antibiotics aren't started early, they can help reduce the child's chances of spreading the infection to others. Infants with pertussis who are younger than 18 months need constant supervision because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Infants with severe illness should be treated in a hospital.