Whooping Cough

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

Whooping cough is a respiratory infection that is highly contagious and can be described as violent, uncontrollable coughing. Also known as pertussis in reference to the bacteria that causes the condition (Bordetella pertussis or Bordetella parapertussis), this bacterial infection has a history of child-related death and illness since it is more common amongst infants and children. In some cases, coughing episodes can be so violent, infants affected by this infection are unable to eat, drink or even breathe. The term "whooping cough" was coined due to the "whoop" sound an infected person would make as he or she gasps for air after an episode of coughing.


Whooping cough is caused by bacteria and spreads from one infected person to the next via moisture droplets containing the disease. When an infected individual sneezes or coughs, the droplets can fly through the air and be inhaled by the next victim. Once the bacteria have entered a person's airways, the bacteria will multiply while producing toxins that prevent the respiratory tract from ridding itself of germs. Mucus will begin to accumulate in the airways, which leads to violent coughing that the victim is unable to prevent.


Signs and symptoms of whooping cough share similarities with the common cold and tend to develop a week after the individual has been exposed to the bacteria. Symptoms, other than the actual cough, include:

  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Irritated eyes
  • Slight fever

Symptoms become worse several weeks into the infection, with uncontrollable coughing episodes that may cause a person to feel tired and out of breath. A person's phlegm tends to grow thick, and a bad coughing episode may even cause vomiting. Coughing followed by the "whooping" sound as the individual struggles for air is one of the main identifiers for whooping cough.


Treatment for whooping cough includes the use of antibiotics to fight the bacteria responsible for the infection. The key to effective treatment is to administer the antibiotics in the early stages of infection. Infants under 18-months-old require hospitalization to monitor the infection. In some cases, infants have stopped breathing due to uncontrollable coughing spells. Unfortunately, there are not many options to relieve whooping cough. Over-the-counter medications have been proven ineffective and are not recommended for those affected by whooping cough. If an individual is diagnosed with whooping cough in the advanced stages of infection, prescribed antibiotics will become less effective for countering the illness.

Like the common cold or flu, individuals suffering from whooping cough should limit their physical activity. Fluids and ample rest are very important, and any contact with those who aren't sick should be limited. Wearing a mask and constant washing of the hands can help prevent this highly contagious infection from spreading.

Whooping Cough Vaccinations

Because whooping cough has a history of life-threatening illness and complications amongst children and infants, it is recommended that they get vaccinated to prevent whopping cough. Vaccination is the best form of prevention in both children and adults. There are two forms of vaccines available to prevent whooping cough:

  • DTaP or Diphtheria, Tetanus, and acellular Pertussis vaccine: This vaccine is recommended for children.
  • Tdap or Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine: This is the recommended vaccine for teens and adults.

Vaccinations for whooping cough will eventually wear off and need to be administered again, especially if the individual was only vaccinated during childhood.

When To Call For Help

If an individual suffering from whooping cough experiences any of the following symptoms, medical attention should be sought immediately:

  • High Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Constant vomiting
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Pale or blue skin due to lack of oxygen
  • If the individual has stopped breathing

Remember to seek immediate medical attention if an infant or young child shows any signs or symptoms of whooping cough to prevent any life-threatening complications.


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