15:15 02 October 2013
Pertussis, otherwise known as “whooping cough” or “the 100 day cough”, is a disease that affects 48.5 million people every year and is responsible for over a quarter of a million deaths.
The Bordetella pertussis bacterium can strike at any time and is highly contagious, so you can’t be too prepared.
First, let’s look at the symptoms of whooping cough:
The earliest symptoms themselves take between one and three weeks to appear – this is a delay known as an incubation period. Following that you may experience all or some of the following:
• Sore throat
• Watery eyes
• A blocked or runny noise
• A mild increase in temperature
• A dry, irritating cough
At this stage, most people self-diagnose themselves as having a common cold or virus, but as the second phase of whooping cough appears (also known as paroxysmal stage) the symptoms become severe:
• Harsh coughing fits resulting in thick phlegm and the tell-tale “whoop” sound with each sharp breath immediately after coughing (this is more pronounced in adults)
• Vomiting (usually in the case of infants and small children)
• Extreme tiredness
• Coughing bouts usually lasting between one and two minutes (usually around a dozen bouts a day)
• Difficulty breathing
• Young children may appear to choke and even stop breathing temporarily causing their face to start turning blue
This stage usually lasts a few weeks and is proceeded by the recovery stage whereby the symptoms will gradually decline in strength over a period of around three months.
If you think you are infected, you may be asking yourself how this happened.
Here are the most common causes of developing whooping cough:
Carried in droplets of moisture in the air, whooping cough is caused due an exposure to the Bordetella pertussis bacterium via coughing and sneezing.
This bacterium infects the lining of your airways, putting most of its attention on the trachea (windpipe) and the bronchi (the two airways branching from it to the lungs).
Before long, the bacterium multiplies and forms a thick mucus. It’s this thick mucus which your body tries to get rid of by coughing it up and out. However, the bacterium plans against that tactic to swelling the airways to make them narrower. This makes breathing difficult and causes the ‘whooping’ sound when you breathe.
But don’t worry, help is at hand. Read on below to reveal how to treat whooping cough:
You may already have had treatment for whooping cough – there is a common vaccination offered to all pregnant women and children (with the 5-in-1 vaccine during the first four months and the 4-in-1 pre-school booster).
However, if this is not the case you run the risk of getting the disease. Even if you are vaccinated, the effectiveness may wear off over time meaning that you could still develop the disease.
You may be prescribed a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading which will start working five days after taking them.
Being prescribed antibiotics from your GP isn’t always easy. If detected within the first three weeks usually results in a prescription but if in the later stages, you will probably be denied because the bacterium that causes whooping cough will have already left your system despite your symptoms.
Babies and young children are hit hardest by whooping cough and are more likely to be hospitalised and treated in isolation. Antibiotics and steroid treatments be given intravenously (into a vein via a drip).
Treating whooping cough at home is usually the case if you are an older child/adult. The key idea is to get a lot of rest, drink plenty of fluids, clear away as much excess mucus as you can and self-medicate with ibuprofen and/or paracetamol.
However, you may not be out of the woods just yet. It’s worth considering the complications of whooping cough:
Young children and babies are the most likely to develop the worst complications such as:
• Low blood pressure
• Brain damage
• Kidney failure
• Weight loss
• Severe difficulty breathing
In older children and adults, there are additional worries of developing:
• A hernia
• Bruised, even broken ribs through coughing
• Burst blood vessels in the eyes
• Ulcers in the mouth
• Swelling to the face
• Ear infections
Points to remember:
If you believe that your child has developed whooping cough, see your GP immediately.
Always cover your mouth/nose when coughing/sneezing
If in doubt, seek the advice of a medical professional
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