Health Notes: Whooping Cough
By Ellen S. Mullen M.D.
Whooping cough is a bacterial lung infection caused by the Pertussis bacteria. It is called whooping cough because of the coughing fits that often end in a “whooping” sound as the person tries to catch their breath. Pertussis is airborne, therefore it can be transferred in the air when a person who is infected coughs or sneezes. It is also transferred through touching a surface that may be coated with the bacteria, such as someone’s hand or a doorknob. The symptoms may start as a simple runny nose but oftentimes the cough persists and can last for up to six weeks. A nasal swab can be done to detect the bacteria. Your doctor may also want to check a chest x-ray and blood work to rule out illnesses that can mimic whooping cough, such as other types of pneumonia.
Whooping cough is very contagious so persons with the illness are often advised to stay at home. Antibiotics are used to decrease the spread of the disease and lessen the course of the illness. Your doctor may also wish to prescribe antibiotics to others who have had close contact with the patient being treated. Resting and drinking lots of fluids help to speed the healing process. Over the counter medications will not cure whooping cough but may aid in helping the symptoms.
Infants are given five immunizations by the age of six to help to prevent whooping cough. However this vaccine begins to wear off in 5-10 years. The Center for Disease Control is recommending that teens and adults get the Tdap booster to help to reduce the spread of pertussis. This booster is recommended for anyone that is not up to date on their vaccines or has not had a Tdap booster in 5-10 years. You may note that with your next tetanus booster you will also be getting immunized against pertussis. Check with your doctor to assure that your immunizations are up to date.