Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is also known as pertussis. It is an infectious disease affecting mainly children but can occur virtually in every age. Before vaccination, whooping cough has been a feared disease that could easily kill the affected child by choking. In many developing countries the whooping cough is still a serious and widespread threat.


The disease is caused by a bacterium Bordetella pertussis. This microorganism spreads easily by exhaled and coughed up droplets, it attack the respiratory tract, multiplies and creates a toxin that damages the mucous membranes.


The disease begins to manifest several days after the infection. First symptoms resemble other upper respiratory tract infections and the patient suffers from cough, elevated body temperature and runny nose. However, the cough gradually worsens, it is exhausting and sometimes it leads to gagging or even vomiting. The cough may be so strong and permanent that affected person’s eyes turn red because of cracked vessels and small hemorrhages in the conjunctiva. Due to excessive pressure during strenuous cough the lungs can rupture and pneumothorax occurs. Bouts of choking cough can recur for days or even weeks and their frequency and severity slowly reduces.


In addition to above mentioned symptoms, there may be signs of infection in blood tests (elevated number of white blood cells, elevated CRP and sedimentation rate). Nasopharyngeal swab may help diagnose the bacterial presence in the respiratory tract and indirect diagnosis can be done by serologic confirmation of antibodies against pertussis bacteria in the blood.


The most effective prevention is vaccination. It does not mean that vaccinated people are fully protected but the risk of the disease is much lower. Due to high infectiousness of the disease, it is recommended to isolate the sick child from close contact with other healthy children.


Main method of therapy is the administration of antibiotics that can be complemented by antitussic agents (drugs against cough). The antibiotics can reduce the severity of symptoms but on the other hand they may not be able to considerably shorten the duration of illness.

Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Contact: jiri.stefanek@seznam.cz
 Sources: basic text sources