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What is Whooping Cough or Pertussis by Allison Torno

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Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is a respiratory tract infection that induces violent coughing. It is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis finds its way into the lungs and is considered to be highly contagious. Pertussis has been known to spread easily among children, especially those who have not received all of their recommended vaccines. However, adults and teens can contract pertussis if their vaccinations have worn off, causing their immunity to the bacteria to fade away. It is called “whooping” cough because patients tend to make a sharp “whoop” noise when they breathe in after coughing.  The coughing fits associated with whooping cough have been known to break ribs, induce vomiting, and cause abdominal hernias. The infection has been known to last up to six weeks with proper medical treatment. Pertussis is not considered to be deadly but has been known to occur in infants who have not received their vaccines.

There are two stages of symptoms of pertussis. Once someone is infected, it takes about one week for their symptoms to show up and develop. In the first stage, the symptoms are similar to that of the common cold: runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, mild fever, and dry cough. After about a week or two the symptoms begin to worsen. In the second stage of symptoms, thick mucus gathers in the airways, making it difficult to breathe. The mucus induces violent and uncontrollable coughing fits that give whooping cough its name. These coughing attacks may cause someone to vomit, develop a red or blue face, develop extreme fatigue, and short loss of consciousness.

In the first stage, the symptoms of pertussis can be difficult to diagnose because they can be mistaken for the common cold. However, a doctor can order a couple of different medical tests to be performed to test for pertussis. The first and most common test is a nose and throat culture. This test is performed when your doctor takes a sample of mucus from your nose and throat and sends it to a lab to be tested for the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. The second test that can be performed to determine pertussis is a blood test. This blood test is very general and doesn’t test for the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It only tests for high white blood cell counts or a high lymphocyte presence in the blood. High white blood cell counts usually indicate infections and inflammation because they are known as the cells that help to fight infections.

Pertussis is easier to treat in older children and adults compared to infants. Infants with pertussis usually require hospitalization because it is possible for their breathing to stop during their coughing fits. Typically a high-humidity oxygen tent is used and the patient is hooked up to an IV for them to receive their essential fluids. Sedatives may also be prescribed for young children to make them sleepy so they don’t wake up in a violent coughing spell. However, the most common way to treat pertussis in anyone is with the use of antibiotics. Since pertussis is caused by bacteria, it can be destroyed by antibiotics. The most common antibiotic prescribed to people with whooping cough is erythromycin. However, if they are prescribed too late, the antibiotics are essentially useless and don’t help with relieving the symptoms. The antibiotics are also prescribed to prevent the patient from spreading the pertussis bacteria to others.

There are several complications caused by whooping cough. These complications are usually due to the coughing spells brought on by pertussis and are not considered very serious. These complications include abdominal hernias, broken blood vessels in the eye or skin, and broken ribs. Although most people make a full recovery from pertussis, the ones who are at risk of many severe complications are infants under six months old. Following whooping cough, infants are at risk of ear infections, pneumonia, slowed or stopped breathing, dehydration, seizures, or even brain damage. The only way to prevent these life-threatening complications in infants is to prevent pertussis from spreading. The best way to prevent is to immunize with the pertussis vaccine. It is recommended that infants receive these shots at two months old, four months old, six months old, 15 to 18 months old, and again at four to six years old. At age 11 your immunity to pertussis begins to fade away, so it is recommended that children at that age receive a booster shot. And into adulthood, some doctors recommend a 10-year booster to help your immunity to pertussis and some other diseases.






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