Respiratory Medicine, Primary Care Doctor, General Practice

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Introduction to Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough is an infection from a bacteria call Bordetella pertussis.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is an infection from a bacteria call Bordetella pertussis. People of all ages can get whooping cough, however it is usually a more serious illness in babies under 6 months of age. An immunisation programme was introduced in the UK in the 1950’s, which caused the incidence of whooping cough to greatly reduce. Whooping cough is highly infectious in the first 3 weeks of having the disease. It spreads by water droplets from coughing, sneezing and breathing.

What causes Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is an infection from a bacteria call Bordetella pertussis.

What are the symptoms of Whooping Cough?

In the early stages of infection the first symptom to occur is usually include a sore throat. Within a day or two a dry cough develops and you may sometimes feel feverish. Over a few days the cough may become productive and you may bring up sputum. After approximately 7-14 days the cough usually worsens as it occurs in bouts of intense coughing. The bouts of coughing usually cause a desperate attempt to breathe in which may cause a whooping sound. The bouts of coughing usually last about 1-2 minutes and may cause vomiting. Between bouts of coughing you may feel completely healthy. The final stage of the illness is known as the easing stage. The bouts of coughing gradually ease over a few months or more.

How is Whooping Cough treated?

An antibiotic against the bacteria that causes whooping cough is the usual treatment. However, when the bouts of coughing have started, treatment with antibiotics has very little impact. It is important to still take antibiotics if whooping cough is diagnosed in the first three weeks of illness. This is because after 5 days of taking antibiotics you are no longer infectious. The antibiotic of choice is usually: clarithromycin, azithromycin or erythromycin. To prevent whooping cough antibiotics can be given to non-immunised individuals who have come into close contact with somebody with whooping cough. In the UK, immunisations are taken against whooping cough. This is offered to all children as part of a triple vaccine. The vaccine is given at ages 2, 3 and 4 months and then a preschool booster between 3-5 years old.

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