Whooping Cough Making A Comeback? Pertussis Epidemic Concerns

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A boy diagnosed with Pertussis. Photo by: CDC

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious disease that is increasing in the United States.

Whooping cough gets its name from the a ‘whooping’ sound that the infected person makes when he or she coughs.

Whooping Cough Signs and Symptoms

Pertussis is an upper-respiratory infection that is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis – an infection can last up to six weeks. 

Pertussis is generally seen in young children and infants, but adolescents and adults can also become infected.

After about a week of being exposed to the bacteria, the infected person may have cold-like symptoms. About 10-12 days later a severe cough develops.

At the end of the cough, when the child is trying to breathe in air, a “whoop” sound will be present. This “whooping” sound is a good indication of pertussis; however, it is not a common symptoms in infants younger than six months or in adults.

You can hear the sound of pertussis in a child here, and in an adult here.

Parents should be watchful of infants during the coughing spells, because they can easily choke, vomit, and/or have a brief loss of consciousness. Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview Alison Patti at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about pertussis. Alison told us that, “Infants are at greatest risk for getting whooping cough and then having severe complications from it, including death. Every case of whooping cough means a chance for an infant to be exposed. That’s why it’s so important to vaccinate everyone who has contact with infants. Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for children, teens, and adults, including pregnant women.”

Can I Get Whooping Cough?

Pertussis is a contagious disease that is spread from person to person when the infected (sick) person coughs or sneezes. These droplets disperse through the air and other people can breathe these droplets in without evening knowing it, and then they can become sick as well. Pertussis can also lead to complications such as, pneumonia, ear infections, brain damage, seizures, and death.  However, there is a vaccine available to children and adults.

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