Definition: what is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is a very contagious respiratory infection caused by bacteria that is carried along the airways and involves very intense fits of coughing.
Whooping cough can be serious for fragile people such as newborns, pregnant women, older people or those with immune system problems.
A vaccination against whooping cough is available nowadays. However, 300,000 people still die every year due to this infection and around 50 million people in the world are affected.
Symptoms: how to recognise whooping cough
The incubation period of whooping cough generally lasts between 7 and 10 days but can go on for up to three weeks. The first symptom of whooping cough is a runny and blocked nose lasting for one or two weeks, eventually accompanied by a mild fever. It is then followed by a dry cough. Although mild at first, it gets worse over time as the infection progresses.
Coughing fits occur in a brutal and violent way and these repeated fits cause various characteristic signs of whooping cough:
- thick mucus in the saliva
- bursting of the blood vessels around the eyes (redness of the face)
- mild wheezing when breathing (roosters crow)
The recovery phase lasts on average between one and two weeks, after which the cough disappears little by little.
Causes of whooping cough
The bacterium responsible for whooping cough is called Bordetella pertussis. Whooping cough is spread through the airways, by droplets from the nose or the mouth of an infected person which then travel in the air during coughing fits. The infection is most infectious during the first week.
Prevention and vaccination against whooping cough
Whooping cough is prevented with the pertussis vaccination which is often associated with tetanus, diphtheria and poliomyelitis. The vaccination is recommended for newborns over the age of two months. The infection must be repeated: at 11 months, 6 years and then again between 11 and 13 years old.
It is also recommended for pregnant women and for all those in contact with children. Immunity with the vaccination fades after about ten years, which is why it is important that it is repeated.
Treating whooping cough
People who are affected by whooping cough should be isolated and kept away from others in order to avoid it spreading. Antibiotic therapy limits the contagiousness of the infection. It is also recommended for everyone around these people who have not repeated the doses.
In order to ease the cough, it is advised to drink a lot and eat in small doses, but more often.
If a child of under three months is affected by whooping cough, they must be hospitalized urgently so as they can receive proper care. Their respiratory state is then closely surveilled.