Starts like a cold and easily spreads
Pertussis or whooping cough usually starts like a cold with a mild cough, runny nose or fever. After a week or two, severe coughing fits may begin.
“Whooping cough is very contagious and can cause serious illness (even death) in infants,” said Emily Olson, MD.
Unfortunately, not everyone who has whooping cough has symptoms. During the two weeks they’re contagious, they can easily spread it to others.
“That is why it is very important for any person spending any time around children should receive the whooping cough vaccine,” said Dr. Olson.
Whooping cough symptoms
One symptom of whooping cough is the loud “whooping” sound people make during violent and rapid coughing fits. As air is drained from the lungs, the person is forced to inhale or gasp for air.
People who experience extreme coughing fits may also vomit or become exhausted. This symptom can last for up to 10 weeks.
Other symptoms can include:
- Nasal discharge
- Sore, watery eyes
- Lips, tongue, and nail beds may turn blue during coughing spells
Click to hear what whooping cough sounds like.
It is important to note that people with less severe cases of pertussis may not develop the tell-tale cough, but they still have the disease and are still contagious.
Most dangerous for babies
Whooping cough is most dangerous for babies younger than 1 year of age. According to the CDC, about 50% of children less than 1 year of age who contract whooping cough need hospitalization.
- 1 in 4 babies will develop pneumonia (lung infection)
- 1 or 2 babies in 100 will have convulsions
- Two thirds of babies with whooping cough (67%) will have slowed or stopped breathing
- 1 in 300 babies will develop encephalopathy, a disease of the brain
- 1 or 2 in 100 will die
Teens and adults are also vulnerable
Besides risking developing pneumonia, teens and adults can also develop the following complications caused by the coughing fits:
- Weight loss (33%)
- Loss of bladder control (28%)
- Passing out (6%)
- Rib fractures from severe coughing (4%)
Prevention through vaccination
Fortunately, whooping cough is easily prevented with Tdap vaccines given to children starting at 2 months of age. Dr. Olson strongly recommends that children and adults receive the vaccination.
Ministry Health Care also adopts Tdap cocooning, which is a process of vaccinating anyone who comes in contact with the baby in the first few months of life, including the expectant mother.
However, if a child develops whooping cough, it is very important that their parents bring them into the doctor’s office to be properly tested and treated.
“Not only is treatment necessary for the well-being of the child but it is also extremely important in helping prevent the spread of whooping cough to others,” said. Dr. Olson.