Pertussis is a highly contagious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis (or B. pertussis). It causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep “whooping” sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath.
- Initial symptoms, similar to the common cold, usually develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria.
- Severe episodes of coughing start about 10 to 12 days later. In children, the coughing often ends with a “whoop” noise. The sound is produced when the patient tries to take a breath. The whoop noise is rare in patients under 6 months of age and in adults.
- Coughing spells may lead to vomiting or a short loss of consciousness. Pertussis should always be considered when vomiting occurs with coughing. In infants, choking spells are common.
Other pertussis symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Slight fever (102 °F or lower)
- If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away more quickly. Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren’t very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the patient’s ability to spread the disease to others.
- Infants younger than 18 months need constant supervision because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Infants with severe cases should be hospitalized.
- An oxygen tent with high humidity may be used.
- Fluids may be given through a vein if coughing spells are severe enough to prevent the person from drinking enough fluids.
- Sedatives (medicines to make you sleepy) may be prescribed for young children.
- Cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are usually not helpful and should NOT be used.
- DTaP vaccination, one of the recommended childhood immunizations, protects children against pertussis infection. DTaP vaccine can be safely given to infants. Five DTaP vaccines are recommended. They are usually given to children at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years.
- The Tdap vaccine should be given around age 11 or 12, and every 10 years thereafter.
- During a pertussis outbreak, unimmunized children under age 7 should not attend school or public gatherings, and should be isolated from anyone known or suspected to be infected. This should last until 14 days after the last reported case.
- Some health care organizations strongly recommend that adults up to the age of 65 years receive the adult form of the vaccine against pertussis.
- What Is Pertussis? (everydayhealth.com)
- Mommy Medicine: Protecting your family from pertussis ()
- Adult Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Vaccine Benefits and Side Effects (webmd.com)
- Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
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