What is Whooping Cough
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a contagious bacterial infection. It gets its name from the "whooping" sound a person makes when they breathe in after a severe coughing fit. The "whooping" sound happens as air passes through the swollen and inflamed larynx.
Before vaccines were implemented, whooping cough affected 100,000 people annually in England and Wales and killed between 5,000 and 10,000 in the United States. Since vaccinations began in the 1940s and 1950s, those numbers have dropped significantly, only to rise again in the last few years - mostly in older children and adults whose vaccinations have not been kept up-to-date, and in infants under the age of six months who have not been vaccinated or don't have the full protection of the vaccine.
Whooping cough can be contracted by inhaling airborne droplets expelled by someone with the disease. Because it is so contagious, an unvaccinated person can be at risk of getting it just by being in the room with an infected person. "The incubation period - the time between contracting the infection and the appearance of the main symptoms - can vary from five to 15 days or even longer. Whooping cough is infectious from the first sneezes and through 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" (www.netdoctor.co.uk).
Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
A whooping cough infection has three stages. The first stage (catarrhal stage) lasts one or two weeks. During this stage a patient will exhibit symptoms that resemble an upper respiratory infection, such as:
- runny nose
- low-grade fever
- mild, dry cough
The severity of the cough gradually increases into the second stage - paroxysmal stage - where there are bursts or bouts of coughing or several rapid coughs as the lung have difficulty expelling thick mucus from the airways. The frequency of these coughing bursts will increase over the first one or two weeks, then remain consistent for two or three weeks before gradually becoming less frequent.