“Whooping Cough” is the commonly used name for “pertussis,” a disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria, known for sickening children. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it is very contagious and can be the worst in babies — who can develop pneumonia, have trouble breathing, or even have life-threatening breathing pauses (apnea). Half of babies under one year old who become sick with whooping cough are hospitalized — and it can be fatal. The “whooping” sound may or may not happen with a cough, but you can listen to an example of the whooping sound here.
What Can Parents Do?
The CDC recommends that expecting parents get vaccinated. The agency recommends that parents make sure that anyone who will be around their baby is up-to-date with their vaccination or has had a booster shot at least two weeks before coming near their child — that means siblings, cousins, grandparents and caregivers. If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor about being vaccinated in the third trimester of your pregnancy. Once your baby is born, ask your pediatrician about the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) vaccination schedule to protect your child from this disease. As a resource, the CDC has published its recommended childhood vaccination schedule here.
Whooping Cough is Sickening Teens and Adults Too
The number of cases of whooping cough is on the rise and about one half of all cases in this country are in teens and adults. When teens or adults have whooping cough they do not necessarily have the classic symptoms of a cough with a “whoop” or vomiting after coughing. The main symptom may be a bad lasting cough. By some estimates 10 to 30% or more of all lingering coughs are caused by pertussis.
Currently, there are low numbers of adults receiving the Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) vaccination that provides protection from pertussis. In fact, the CDC reports adult pertussis vaccination rates of only 12.5% in 2012. Ask your doctor if you should receive this vaccine. As a reference, you can see the CDC’s recommended schedule for adult vaccinations here.
Know the Signs
The CDC says to” know the signs.” The disease starts like a cold, with congestion and a runny nose, and possibly a fever or cough. After one or two weeks, a severe cough can begin. This can turn into fits of rapid coughing over and over, that lasts for weeks. Whooping cough can be diagnosed by your doctor from an exam, your symptoms, a culture of your nose or throat, or a blood test. Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics, but it must be caught early, often within the first three weeks. Early treatment can lessen the symptoms of the illness and prevent spreading to other people. A CDC chart of the disease stages can be found here.
Have a friend who’s pregnant? Please make sure she sees this post. If you or your child develops a cold with a severe cough, definitely contact your doctor.
–Janell Mayo Duncan
,  Source: “Protect Babies from Whooping Cough (Pertussis),” Center for Disease Control (viewed 7/26/14)
 Source: “No Big Whoop: Adult Pertussis May Not Produce the Whooping Cough,” Harvard Health Blog (viewed 7/26/14)
 Source: “Adult Immunization Schedule Updated as Vaccination Rates Lag,” Harvard Health Blog (viewed 7/26/14)
 Source: “Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Diagnosis & Treatment,” Center for Disease Control (viewed 7/27/14)
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