Whooping cough (pertussis) is a contagious illness that causes intense fits of coughing. The illness often starts like the common cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing starts. The cough often ends with a whooping sound as air is inhaled.
“While it mainly affects babies and young children we recently have seen teens in our office with pertussis,” reports Dr. Kenton Hilbish, MD, a board certified pediatrician with New Castle Pediatrics.
“During coughing spells, it is hard for babies and children to eat, drink, or breathe. These spells can last for weeks. Whooping cough is worse for children under 1 year of age and it can be fatal is some cases,” he added.
The pertussis vaccine can help prevent the illness. But the vaccine is not 100% effective. The vaccine’s protection also wears off over time. Teens and adults who have not had a booster may spread the disease during an outbreak. It is very contagious as it is spread from child to child through coughing and sneezing.
Parents are urged to make sure their children are vaccinated. Pregnant women should discuss whether they should have a pertussis vaccine with their obstetrician as pertussis is very dangerous for infants. Family members and caregivers for infants also should consider having the pertussis vaccination.
As the symptoms of whooping cough can be like other health conditions, make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. A sample of fluid from the nose or mucus from a cough may be tested for the bacteria. This is often done to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment depends on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It also will depend on how severe the condition is. In some cases, your child may to go to the hospital for treatment for supportive care and monitoring. Sometimes, your child may need oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids until he or she starts to recover.
“Your child also may take antibiotic medicine,” said Dr. Hilbish. “The antibiotics may not make your child get better faster. But they will prevent the spread of infection to others. Anyone who has been in close contact with a child with whooping cough is usually given antibiotic medicine as well. This is the case even if someone has had the pertussis vaccine.”
Home treatment may include:
- Keeping your child comfortably warm
- Feeding your child small meals often
- Giving your child plenty of fluids
- Preventing things that cause coughing
Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.