What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough (pertussis) is still a very serious disease when it occurs in children under the age of one year old. But thanks to an effective vaccine and prevention against infection, it is now quite rare.
Whooping cough is a very serious disease when it occurs in children aged under one year.
Before the vaccination against whooping cough was introduced, three out of four children caught the disease and some died every year. Today only a few get whooping cough.
|What causes whooping cough? - Treatment
Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) and is one of the most contagious bacterial infections.
If one child in a group of siblings gets it, the other children are extremely likely to become infected if they have not already had the disease or been vaccinated.
This also includes babies. Although infants who are breastfed are usually protected against most common childhood infections, they receive no protection against whooping cough. This is why early vaccination is recommended.
Children with a cold or cough should be kept away from non-vaccinated children as well as women in labour and newborn babies.
|How is whooping cough contracted?
The infection is transferred through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs. Anyone who has not been vaccinated is highly likely to contract the disease just by spending time in the same room as an infected person.
Anyone who has been vaccinated or has suffered from whooping cough will have a degree of immunity to the disease. They may contract a mild case some years later but this will not develop into a full-blown attack.
The incubation period - the time between contracting the infection and the appearance of the main symptoms - can vary from 5 to 15 days or even longer.
Whooping cough is infectious from the first sneezes and throughout the course of the disease, which can last for up to eight weeks. This is a much longer period than with other children's diseases.
|What are the symptoms of whooping cough?
The disease begins with a cold and a mild cough. After this, the typical coughing bouts set in. The coughing continues until no air is left in the lungs. After this comes a deep intake of breath that produces a heaving, 'whooping' sound when the air passes the larynx (windpipe) that gives rise to the name of the disease.
The patient will eventually cough up some phlegm and these attacks may well be followed by vomiting. The child's temperature is likely to remain normal.
A bout of whooping cough can be very distressing for both the child and the parents who feel unable to help.
Coughing attacks may occur up to 40 times a day and the disease can last for up to eight weeks.
|How does the doctor make the diagnosis?
The diagnosis is usually made from the symptoms and the history of contact with a person suffering from whooping cough. In case of doubt, the doctor can take swabs from the nose and throat for analysis and have the results in about five days.
|Whooping Cough Treatment -Complications
While whooping cough is very unpleasant, there may also be other complications, such as bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. These complications may cause a high temperature, and change the course of the disease. If one or more of these problems occur, they will usually be treated with antibiotics.
|How is whooping cough treated? -Treatment
Most cases of whooping cough require no specific treatment . Infants and small children with other conditions such as asthma require constant monitoring which, at least for a while, is best done in a hospital. The effect of antibiotics is uncertain but they are sometimes used in the early period of the disease.
Vaccination is recommended.
|How does one prevent the infection?
Just as important as the vaccination, is the necessity to prevent the infection spreading especially to small children. This is especially important for children in nursery school.
If there are infected children in childcare, other infants under the age of one year should not be admitted unless they have had whooping cough or have been vaccinated against it twice, with a period of four weeks between vaccinations.
If the children are more than one year old they may be admitted even if they have not had the disease themselves or been vaccinated. But the parents must be informed of the danger of infection.
If whooping cough occurs at home, no special measures are necessary.
Which medicine can be used?
There is no medical treatment against whooping cough as such. However, the infectious period may be reduced by giving certain antibiotics (such as erythromycin (eg Erythroped)).
Who should be vaccinated? -Treatment
The vaccination takes place at the age of two, three and four months as part of the 'five-valent' diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hib, polio vaccination (Pediacel). After the first two vaccinations protection is almost 100 per cent.
It is advisable that all children should be vaccinated against whooping cough, as it is important to prevent this dangerous disease.