The One About Whooping Cough

There has been much talk recently about outbreaks of pertussis, frequently referred to as whooping cough, throughout the United States and here in our area.  What is this disease, why should you care, and what can you do about it?

Bordatella pertussis is a bacterial illness that classically causes a prolonged respiratory illness and episodes of coughing followed by the characteristic “whoop.”  It can occur in people of all ages, but is most severe and dangerous in infants.  Pertussis is frequently referred to as the “100 day cough.”  The incubation period after exposure is about 7-10 days.  The first stage of illness usually looks like a cold with mild cough and runny nose.  The second phase occurs about 2-3 weeks later when instead of the cough improving, it begins to worsen.  During this stage, children will have episodes of coughing frequently followed by a large inhalation causing the “whoop” sound.  This classic whoop usually does not occur in infants or adults, and isn’t always present in children.  The final phase of illness occurs months later as the cough begins to resolve, but occasional coughing fits can still occur.

Pertussis is a disease for which people have been widely vaccinated, and yet its incidence is increasing.  Much of this is due to waning immunity in older children and adults who then pass the disease on to infants that have not yet been vaccinated.  The most common complications from pertussis include pneumonia, apnea (not breathing), poor feeding, and vomiting after coughing.  The most severe complications, including apnea and death, occur almost exclusively in infants.

Vaccination is the key to preventing this disease in your family and community.  All infants should receive the DTaP (diptheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis) vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15 months.  Children get a booster again at 4 and 11 years of age.  To protect children who are too young to have completed the vaccination series, parents, older siblings, grandparents, and other contacts should make sure that they talk to their doctors and get a TdaP vaccine (the adult version of the tetanus, diptheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine).

If you are concerned that your child may have pertussis, contact your doctor because they should be tested with a nasal swab and treated with antibiotics to help prevent the spread of illness.

Pertussis is a not a disease that has been eradicated from our world or only exists somewhere far away.  It causes illness, hospitalization, and death right here in our community.  Make sure that you and your family are up to date with vaccinations to stay healthy and help prevent the spread of pertussis.

Also published in Hill Country News – Medical Messenger

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