Whooping cough, known medically as pertussis, is an extremely contagious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Whooping cough is called the 100 days' cough in some countries.In many patients there is a distinctive hacking cough which is followed by a high-pitched gasp for air that sounds like a "whoop," hence the name.
Before the development of a vaccine, whooping cough was mainly a disease of childhood. Today, it mainly affects children who are too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations, as well as adolescents whose immunity has waned.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, typically affects children who are too young to have been fully vaccinated for the disease.
After the introduction of mass vaccinations in the 1940s, whooping cough rates dropped to less than 1 per 100,000 by 1970. However, since 1980 numbers have started to creep back up slightly.In developed nations, whooping cough mortality rates are extremely low, and occur almost exclusively among infants. It is vital that pregnant mothers, as well as those who are in close contact with infants (newborns and babies up to 12 months of age), be vaccinated against pertussis.
Whooping cough affects approximately 48.5 million people every year, of whom 295,000 die. According to WHO (World Health Organization), pertussis is one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable deaths globally. The majority of cases (over 90%) occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Children of parents who will not let them be vaccinated are 23 times more likely to develop whooping cough compared to fully immunized kids, researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics.
According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, pertussis is:
"An acute infectious inflammation of the larynx, trachea, and bronchi caused by Bordetella pertussis; characterized by recurrent bouts of spasmodic coughing that continues until the breath is exhausted, then ending in a noisy inspiratory stridor (the "whoop") caused by laryngeal spasm."
Contents of this article:
Symptoms of whooping coughA symptom is something the patient feels and describes to the doctor or those around him/her, while a sign is something the doctor, nurse or others can see/detect. An example of a symptom is pain, while watering eyes could be a sign.
Whooping cough symptoms usually appear between six to twenty days after the Bordetella pertussis bacterium has infected the patient, in other words, pertussis has 6-to-20 day incubation period.
The illness starts off with mild symptoms, which then get much worse before improving.
Initial signs and symptoms of pertussis are similar to those of the common cold:
- Blocked nose
- Dry and irritating cough
- Malaise (general feeling of being unwell)
- Mild fever
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Watery eyes.
Paroxysmal symptoms (more severe, suddenly intensifying symptoms)
During this second "paroxysmal stage", there are extremely intense episodes of coughing, often called "paroxysms of coughing". Symptoms include:
- Severe bouts of coughing - a bout can last a couple of minutes. Sometimes, each bout comes so soon after the last that the patient and those around him/her witness cluster bouts that last for tens of minutes. There are typically ten to 15 bouts each day.
- Coughing with phlegm
- During a bout of coughing, the patient eventually gasps for air between coughs and also immediately after the bout is over, producing a "whoop" sound. This is less common in very young children and babies - they may gag or gasp, or even stop breathing temporarily.
During a coughing bout young children may become blue in the face (cyanosis). Although frightening for parents, it is virtually never as bad as it looks and breathing soon resumes.
(This video contains scenes that some viewers may find distressing)
- Coughing bouts followed by vomiting (more frequent among young children and babies)
- Exhaustion and a red face after an episode of coughing.
In very rare cases, whooping cough can cause sudden unexpected death in babies.
Whooping cough - Recovery stage
In this stage the patient starts showing signs of recovery. There are fewer bouts of coughing, which are also less intense. The recovery stage can take three or more months. Even in this stage, the patient can experience bouts of intense coughing.
On the next page, we look at causes of whooping cough and the methods of diagnosis for the condition.