Pertussis is “whooping cough,” also known as the “100 day cough.” In children and adults, the disease starts out looking like a garden-variety cold, complete with runny nose, runny eyes, and mild cough. Sometimes fever is present, sometimes not. However, after a few days, coughing spasms emerge – severe, persistent coughing spasms that go on and on and on. In between coughing fits, children may appear okay.
There is no treatment except to “ride it out” and the cough can last up to three months. Doctors prescribe antibiotics to a child with pertussis because antibiotics can decrease how much a person with whooping cough will spread it to others. Close contacts of kids with pertussis may also receive antibiotics to reduce their chance of getting pertussis.
Whooping cough gets its name from the “whoop” noise kids make after a coughing fit. The fits leave them so breathless that it’s difficult to take a breath in again after the coughing spell. To hear the “whoop” with coughing fit, visit www.whoopingcough.net.
Teens and adults with whooping cough don’t tend to make the whoop sound because their airways are bigger, but the coughing spasms can leave them feeling like they might throw up or pass out. Some in fact do end a coughing fit with vomiting or fainting.
Babies don’t make the whoop either. Instead, babies with pertussis simply cannot catch their breath and stop breathing. That is why babies are the ones who tend to die from this illness. Dr. Lai and I both have watched over hospitalized infants blue from pertussis.
Thankfully, we have a vaccine that is effective at preventing pertussis. The “P” in pertussis is the “P” in the DtaP vaccine that children receive as babies, usually at two, four, and six months of age. The DtaP vaccine is then next given after the first birthday, another between ages four and six years old, and another at age eleven years. Teens who have not received the pertussis vaccine since they were in preschool, and adults who care for infants also should also get the vaccine. For more specific up-to-date recommendations: www.vaccineinformation.org/pertuss/.
As we enter the season for catching snowflakes and coughs, we hope none of your children catch whooping cough.
Julie Kardos, MD with Naline Lai, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®
revised Nov 16, 2011 to reflect the indications for antibiotic prophylaxis