Whooping cough may sound like a disease from the past, but it is still active and potentially serious. At one time, whooping cough, which is also known as pertussis, was a leading cause of death for children in the United States.
The development of a vaccine significantly reduced the number of pertussis cases. However, teens and adults who received the vaccine as young children may lose their immunity.
Since the mid-1970s the number of reported pertussis cases has once again been on the rise. In 2010, 27,500 cases of pertussis were reported in the United States and many more cases were unreported.
Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria enter the body through the upper respiratory system which consists of the nose, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, and voice box.
The pertussis bacteria attach to cilia or tiny hairs that line the upper respiratory system where they release toxins that damage the cilia and cause swelling and thick mucus that can clog airways.
Pertussis causes uncontrollable coughing. Patients with pertussis may cough repeatedly until all the air is gone from their lungs. At this point, they are forced to take a huge gasp of air before coughing again.
The name whooping cough comes from the whooping sound that often accompanies the gasp for air. Some people with pertussis cough so hard that they vomit.
Anyone can get whooping cough. But the disease is most serious in very young children, who may have difficulty eating, drinking, or breathing because of the severe coughing.
The early symptoms of whooping cough are very similar to those of a cold, including:
• Runny nose or nasal congestion
• Red, watery eyes
• Mild fever
• Dry cough
After a week or two of sickness, whooping cough can progress to severe coughing attacks with significant side effects:
• Coughing up phlegm
• Vomiting caused by severe coughing
• Red or blue color on the face
• Extreme fatigue
• Whooping sound while inhaling after a coughing spell