Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis (or B. pertussis). This common childhood illness can be especially risky for babies under the age of 12 months, who often need hospitalization for extra care. Keep reading for everything you need to know about whooping cough and its treatment.
Whooping cough is an infection that is transmitted via airborne means like coughing and sneezing. It is highly contagious and spreads quickly among families and in childcare settings.
All ages can be affected by whooping cough, and symptoms usually develop within 5 to 10 days of exposure.
Aside from the distinctive “whooping” sound, parents and doctors should be on the lookout for these common signs of whooping cough:
- Severe coughing fits
- Coughing that increases at Night
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Low-grade fever
- Red/watery eyes
At first, it may be difficult to distinguish between whooping cough and the common cold, but as time goes on and coughing persists, whooping cough becomes more easily identifiable.
Pertussis infection can cause prolonged symptoms such as up to three months of severe coughing.
The diagnosis of pertussis is made by taking inventory of your child’s symptoms, along with a physical examination to determine the current condition of the airway and lungs. Lab tests including a bacteria culture can be used to confirm a diagnosis in the event of suspected pertussis infection. Imaging such as a chest X-ray can also be used to check for the presence of complications such as pneumonia.
Mild cases of pertussis can usually be treated at home by giving plenty of fluids and using a cool-mist vaporizer to help soothe irritated respiratory passages. Coughing fits may last up to several weeks or even months after infection.
Parents should watch for any signs of dehydration and visit a pediatrician or emergency room if a child becomes extremely lethargic or has trouble breathing.
Kids with whooping cough may need to be treated with a course of antibiotics or even hospitalized for treatment of complications like pneumonia. Pertussis can be fatal, especially in young children and infants, so always seek medical attention when in doubt.
One of the primary means of preventing the spread of whooping cough is to get you and your child immunized with the pertussis vaccine. Whooping cough immunization is most commonly given as a part of the Tdap vaccination series. In addition, a focus on proper hygiene, especially within childcare settings, can help to prevent transmission. Children who are symptomatic with pertussis should be kept home from school or daycare and away from younger siblings and other family members if possible.
If you suspect your child may have whooping cough, give us a call today and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our friendly pediatricians about diagnosis and treatment.