Patient's Complete Guide to Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Overview of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough (کالی کھانسی/Kali khansi) is a contagious infectious disease of the respiratory tract. It is also known as pertussis. It occurs due to infection of the respiratory tract by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The infection is often accompanied by violent coughing that makes breathing difficult. The coughing fits end with a “whooping” sound. This infection can affect all age groups but is usually common in infants.

Vaccination is the best approach to prevent infection. In adults, the disease recovers on its own but in infants can cause complications and even death.

Occurrence of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is most common among infants in developing countries where the vaccination rate is low. As per research, globally, 24.1 million cases of pertussis have been recorded with 160,700 deaths per year.

According to research, in Pakistan, whooping cough incidence was estimated to be 3.96 in 1000 babies in 2016.

Signs and Symptoms of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Signs and symptoms of whooping cough start to appear after 7-10 days of infection. At the start, these symptoms are usually mild and resemble the common cold. Some common signs and symptoms of whooping cough may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough

After about 1-2 weeks, the signs and symptoms start to become worse. Accumulation of thick mucus inside the airways causes uncontrollable coughing. Severe and persistent coughing episodes may cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Redness of face
  • Extreme fatigue
  • "whoop" sound after coughing

In adults, prolonged coughing is the only sign, while infants may not cough. In infants, whooping cough usually causes difficulty breathing or momentarily stops it.

Causes of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

A bacterium Bordetella pertussis is responsible for causing whooping cough. The infection is transmitted by droplets from the diseased person to the healthy one during breathing.

Risk Factors of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

The risk of whooping cough increases as you grow old because the effect of the vaccine that you received as a child eventually wears off. Therefore, most adults and teenagers become susceptible to infection during a new outbreak of infection.

Infants under 12 months of age are at high risk if their vaccination course is not completed. The infection can lead to complications and even death.

Health-Related Complications of Whooping Cough

Teens and adults usually recover from whooping cough without any serious complications. However, if any serious problem occurs it can be the side effects of coughing such as:

  • Bruised or cracked ribs
  • Broken blood vessels in the skin or the whites of eyes
  • Abdominal hernias

However, in infants below 6 months of age, complications can be more severe such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Dehydration or weight loss due to feeding difficulties
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage

Prevention

Whooping cough can be prevented by the pertussis vaccine. This vaccine is often administered in combination with two other vaccines such as diphtheria and tetanus vaccines. Vaccination is recommended during infancy. 

The vaccine is given in five injections in a series at these ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of whooping cough infection at early stages can be difficult because its symptoms resemble the common cold or flu.  Doctors can diagnose the infection by simply inquiring about your symptoms. However, medical tests are required to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Swab Test: Whooping cough bacteria are usually present in the nasopharynx area, where the nose and throat meet. A swab test is performed to take the culture from this area. Further, the bacterium is identified to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests are performed to estimate the number of white blood cells (WBCs). White blood cells are immune cells that fight against infections. An increase in WBCs count can be an indication of infection. This is a general diagnostic test and not specific for whooping cough.
  • Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray test is performed to check for any complications caused by whooping coughs such as pneumonia or other respiratory infections.

Treatment of Whooping Cough (Pertussis) | When to Consult a Doctor

Whooping cough can be treated in various ways depending upon the severity of the condition.

Treatment at Home

Whooping cough can be treated at home:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • To avoid vomiting after a cough, eat smaller meals
  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water, fresh juices and soups.
  • Cover your cough and wash your hands often after coughing.
  • Keep your home free of irritants that can trigger coughing spells.

Treatment for Infants

Infants may require hospitalization for the treatment of whooping cough. Because this infection can be life-threatening in children especially those below 12 months of age. Infected infants are usually kept in isolation to prevent the spread of infection.

Older children and adults can be treated at home.

Medications

  • Prescribed antibiotics can be used for a speedy recovery. Other family members can also take these antibiotics to prevent the infection.
  • Over-the-counter medicines (OTC) can be used to relieve cough, however, their long-term use is discouraged.                                                                Seek immediate medical care if you're or your child’s cough persists for a longer period and experience the following symptoms such as:
  • Redness of face
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Whooping sound while breathing

Doctors to treat Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in Pakistan

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