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Whooping cough

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What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough also known as pertussis is a very infectious illness affecting the bronchial tubes and the lungs. It mainly affects young children, though adults can also be affected. Fortunately, whooping cough is now very rare in the U.K. as a result of an effective vaccine.

What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by a bacterium called bordetella pertussis and is one of the most contagious bacterial infections.

Whooping cough is spread in fine droplets of moisture, which contain the virus. The droplets are produced when the infected person coughs or sneezes, another person then inhales these droplets and may become infected. On very rare occasions whooping cough may be spread on clothes or toys.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

The first symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold – runny nose, fever and a slight cough. It is at this stage the illness is at its most contagious.

The cough gradually becomes more severe and violent, coughing begins to occur in spells and may last for over a minute. Between coughing spells you may gasp for air making a ‘whooping sound’, which is where whooping cough gets its name. This stage usually lasts for 2-4 weeks.

How is whooping cough treated?

Most people with whooping cough can be treated at home and will need no specific treatment. Bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids and pain killers are recommended to reduce any temperature and to aid a quick recovery.

If the doctor recognises whooping cough early, antibiotics can be prescribed to shorten the length of the illness and to stop the spread of infection.

What are the effects of whooping cough?

Whooping cough can be very distressing, especially in young children and can last for several weeks. Long bouts of coughing can become exhausting and lead to vomiting and choking.

Whooping cough can also be complicated by pneumonia and bronchitis though these complications are only usually seen in babies less than 6 months. On very rare occasions whooping cough can cause brain damage due to a lack of oxygen supply to the brain.

What can I do to prevent whooping cough?

Ensure your child has the vaccine for whooping cough. The vaccine will usually be given along with diphtheria and tetanus (known as D.P.T.) in the first few months of life. This vaccine should give your child lifelong protection.

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