Although a whooping cough is regarded as a vaccine-preventable condition, pertussis (whooping cough) has certainly not been eliminated completely and still poses a danger to public health. Over the last 50 years, incidences of whooping cough have decreased by over 90%. However, outbreaks are still prevalent.
While the majority of childhood-vaccinated diseases have been decreasing in frequency, whooping cough cases have been on the rise since 1990. This can be attributed to the relative ineffectiveness of the now outdated vaccines since new bacteria strains keep emerging. Thus, this lowers your resistivity to the disease as the effect of the vaccine wanes over time. This has led to increased reports of pertussis in adolescents and adults.
It’s important to learn about the causes and symptoms of this condition for an early detection.
Causes of Whooping Cough
The bacterium that causes pertussis is known as Bordetella pertussis. It is transferred via tiny droplets that originate from the mouth and nose and is transmitted from individual to individual. There is also another form of this bacterium that is known as Bordetella parapertussis which triggers a milder type of whooping cough called parapertussis.
Indeed, pertussis is most prevalent in children under the age of 5; however, most carriers are older. Research now shows that it is adults who are responsible for the majority of infections in infants.
Since a lot of individuals reach adulthood without getting a bout of pertussis, the possibility of an adult developing whooping cough is not far off. After babies, the persons most likely to suffer serious bouts of pertussis are people with chronic ill health and seniors.
Whooping causes typically takes one or two weeks to incubate. By the end of the first week of contracting pertussis, one starts to become infectious to others, and this contagious phase usually lasts for about six weeks. Whooping cough is highly infectious hence you need to cut contact with people while you are still able to infect them.
Symptoms of Whooping Cough
Pertussis has 3 stages:
- The 1st phase begins manifesting its symptoms during the 10th day of infection. The signs are similar to that of a common cold such as watery eyes, sneezing, loss of appetite, and fatigue. There is also the presence of a dry hacking cough.
- The 2nd stage occurs between the 10th and 14th day and is symbolized by the drastic increase in the severeness and frequency of coughing. The disease derives its name from this cough. You may get bouts of half a dozen coughs or so appear in quick succession accompanied by a whooping sound as you inhale fast and deep. This cough might produce large quantities of thick mucus and babies may sometimes swallow it although it may also exit through the nostrils. The frequent coughs and phlegm may induce vomiting and choking which is especially risky to infants. Toddlers, however, tend not to make the whooping sound but are more likely to suffer a choking spell.
- After a month, you will start looking and feeling better in addition to coughing less. This is the 3rd stage which is the recovery period that might take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The disease runs its course for about ten weeks.
Infants under one year are usually ones at the highest risk of developing complications. The complications include apnea (brief periods characterized by the inability to breath), pneumonia, seizures, eye hemorrhages, and encephalitis (brain inflammation).
Diagnosing a Whooping Cough
Pertussis is relatively simple to diagnose. To do this, the physician will insert a wire with a cotton swab at the end into your nostril. The swab is then checked for bacteria. On most occasions, this test will show the presence of the bacteria.
However, some cases might not show in the diagnosis, but even then, when the disease progresses to the 2nd stage, the symptoms will be apparent. In other cases, your whooping cough might run a milder course, and the later signs might fail to materialize. In addition, immunized individuals can still get pertussis; however, the symptoms will be much milder.
You can also have an X-ray taken to determine if you have mucus or fluid in your lungs.
Treatment and Prevention
Even though it is bacteria which cause whooping cough, antibiotics might be ineffective after the 1st stage. It is quite common for pertussis to go undetected until it gets to the 2nd stage. Nonetheless, antibiotics such as azithromycin, sulfamethoxazole, clarithromycin, and erythromycin can be used at this stage to reduce the probability of developing complications.
Infants with whooping cough should be hospitalized, especially if they are less than a year old. Treatments are based on countering the symptoms and minimizing the damage they might cause. Heavy vomiting is countered by replacing the lost fluids intravenously. In infants, you might need to suck out the mucus using a vacuum-like tool. Cough-suppressing drugs are not recommended. Babies with whooping cough should be allowed a lot of sleep because excitement or movement might trigger coughing.
To prevent whooping cough from spreading, immunization is vital. The pertussis vaccine is administered at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 5 months. Infants are usually not safe until they have taken all three doses. As the vaccine wanes over time, additional doses should be provided to children when they are 4 and 11.
Vaccinations in grown-ups are designed to curb the involuntary transmission of the virus to babies who are at a greater risk. Physicians recommend that adults take a booster shot of the whooping cough vaccine if:
- They are pregnant (in the middle of the 28th and 38th weeks of pregnancy).
- They are in regular contact with infants at work.
- They care for or live with babies under one year old, regardless of whether the child is immunized.
People who are more susceptible to whooping coughs such as those with immunodeficiency, congenital heart disease, and chronic respiratory conditions should also consider taking additional booster doses to avoid developing severe complications and illnesses.
Every year, between one and three thousand individuals are diagnosed with whooping cough. In unvaccinated areas, most incidents occur in children under 5, particularly in infants less than six months old.
If you are susceptible to whooping coughs, it’s important to do regular checkups. Likewise, if you experience any of the symptoms described above, contact your physician to address your concerns.