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Whooping Cough

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What is whooping cough ?

Whooping Cough: is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Bordetella pertussis affecting the respiratory system. It is characterized by a “whooping” sound while breathing in after an uncontrollable and violent episode of coughing.

Generally, symptoms develop by 5 to 10th day after exposure to the bacteria. At times it may not develop for as long as three weeks.

How does it all happen?

• It is highly contagious disease where the bacterial cells attach themselves to the hair-like tiny extensions (cilia) covering the upper respiratory system.

• There is release of toxins which damage the cilia causing inflammatory changes in the airways.


• It is a highly contagious bacterial infection caused by bacterium Bordetella pertussis.One person can transmit to approximately 12-17 individuals.

• The bacterial spread happens from person to person

• Tiny drops of fluid from the nose or mouth of an infected person spread the infection.

• The spread is airborne; hence it can spread when the infected person sneezes or coughs.

• Poor hand hygiene can also lead to the spreading of the infection.

• The most contagious period is during the earliest stages, which can last up to about 2 weeks after once coughing spells begin.

• Antibiotics have shown to shorten this period to 5 days after start of treatment.


There are two phases of symptoms, early and late. Early phase lasts for 1 to 2 weeks and late phase generally starts after 2 weeks and can last up to 10 weeks.

Recovery / Convalescent: there is a decrease in the rate of coughing, and the person returns to being healthy.

Alarming signs:

• If fever is higher than 1020F/ 38.80C .

• Nausea/ Vomiting

• Bluish discoloration of fingers, skin or nails (cyanosis)

• Compromised breathing / severe difficulty in breathing


In individuals of all ages, when there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment of whooping cough, it may lead to complications. These complications may vary occurring to the age of an individual.

In babies less than 1 year of age

• Paused breathing / apnea (61%)

• Develop pneumonia (23%)

• Convulsions/ fits (1.1%)

• Encephalopathy (0.3%)

• Death (1%))

• Dehydration

In children and adults

• Rib fracture

• Loss of bladder control

• Weight loss

• Difficulty in sleeping

• Pneumonia

• Abdominal hernias

• Broken blood vessels in skin or the eyes (white part/sclera)

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Eliciting a good history regarding the condition along with required diagnostic tests, makes it easy to diagnose and treat whooping cough.


• Vaccines: take the three doses at 2, 4, 6 months of age, followed by booster dose at 18 months and 5 years of age.

• Increase intake of warm liquids/ drinks.

• Keep air moist

• Maintain good hand hygiene, wash hands for 20 seconds. Use alcohol based sanitizers to clean hand if soap and water not available.

• Cover mouth and nose and cough or sneeze into your elbows.

• Take preventive antibiotics if anyone known or in the family has been exposed to the disease.


The treatment of whooping cough includes antibiotics, bronchodilators and good precautionary methods to prevent the spread.

• Macrolide antibiotics are drug of choice


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