Whooping cough, a bacterial infection in childhood is caused by the bacterium Bordetalla pertussis. The bacteria is highly infectious and is found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected child. Infection is spread by inhalation of airborne drops coughed out by the infected persons. It can be very serious for children under 2 years of age. But there is effective vaccination against this dissease so the incidence and severity of the disease has been lessened.
The incubation period (the time between contracting the infection and the appearance of the main symptoms) of the disease is usually one to three weeks. The early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to a cold. Other symptoms may include :
A runny nose
Sore, watery eyes
Whooping sound when breathing in between coughing bouts
Fever & diarrhoea
Lips, tongue, and nails may turn blue during coughing spells
Nose bleed & vomiting after the cough
Whooping cough attacks can be distressing for both the child and parents. Complications from whooping cough may include damage to the tiny air sacs and airways in the lungs which may lead to asthma, ear infections, broncho - pneumonia or convulsions. Other serious complications include rupture of blood vessels in the brain (cerebral haemorrhage) or eye, retinal detachment caused violent coughing, tuberculosis and inflammation of the brain. Severe complications can result in permanent brain damage or death.
The diagnosis is usually made from the symptoms and in case of contact with a person suffering from whooping cough. Swabs from the nose and throat are taken for analysis for confirmation of the disease.
Most cases of whooping cough require no specific treatment. Antibiotics are not recommended except for infants and patients who have other complications. Treatment is usually by means of bed rest, pain relief and plenty of drinks. The patient should be kept isolated from others. Very severe cases should be treated in hospital.
Whooping cough can be prevented by means of vaccination. This is a combined vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and hib (dpt/hib) which is usually given at the age of 2, 3 and 4 months. There is also a booster at 18 months and at 4-6 years of age. The vaccination may cause fever, redness and swelling in the injected area which may last upto one or two days. Rarely whooping cough can occur in spite of taking the vaccination. But these attacks will be mild.
It is advisable that all children should be vaccinated against whooping cough, as it is important to prevent this dangerous disease.
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