Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that affects people of all ages. However, it is more common in infants and children less than 5 years old. Whooping cough is an extremely infectious disease that causes inflammation of trachea and bronchi. The infection spreads from one person to another via airborne droplets when the infected person sneezes or coughs.
Symptoms of the infection start developing in the first 2 to 3 weeks but may be quite mild. Whooping cough may initially show symptoms such a dry cough, runny nose and sneezing and is many a times mistaken for common cold. Whooping cough is most infectious during the initial stage. As time passes the symptoms start aggravating and getting worse. These symptoms may include:
- Coughing bouts that cause shortness of breath leading to deep breathing. There is a whooping sound after a coughing attack.
- Coughing out large amount of sputum during a cough attack
- Vomiting due to repeated bouts of coughing
- Excessive and repeated episodes of coughing may cause small blood vessels to burst resulting in small red spots on the face, eyes and at the hairline
- Nose bleeds (in some cases)
If not treated on time, the infection may become severe and further cause pneumonia and bronchitis.
Whooping cough is generally diagnosed by its symptoms. In some cases it can also be determined via a throat swab test and blood test. These tests identify the bacterium causing the disease, and thus help in deciding the line of treatment.
Adults, who may not require hospitalisation for whooping cough might be treated at home. Taking good care and following these self-help tips will help you manage the disease in a better manner:
- The person suffering from whooping cough needs to be quarantined. Do not share utensils, towels or any other items used by the patient.
- Person attending to the patient should wear a surgical mask while looking after him/her. He/she should maintain proper hygiene and clean hands with a sanitizing hand wash after attending to the patient. Hygiene should also be maintained by the person suffering from whooping cough.
- Drinking plenty of water and fruit juices and eating fresh fruits will help to prevent dehydration.
- Since the patient suffers from cough bouts and nausea as well as vomiting, he/she should be given small portions of nutritious home cooked food at regular intervals.
- Keep the surrounding environment free of dust, smoke and other irritants that might trigger coughing.
Since whooping cough is a bacterial infection, it can be efficiently treated with antibiotics. In severe conditions antibiotics may be given intravenously. Antibiotics also help in curbing the spread of the disease. A five day course of antibiotics reduces the chances of the infected person spreading the infection. If the person suffering from whooping cough does not take antibiotics, he/she can spread the infection for up to more than 3 weeks after onset. Sometimes, the person attending to the patient is also prescribed antibiotics so that they he/she does not catch the infection. Although symptoms of the infection start to disappear within 4 to 10 weeks of onset, dry cough may persist and take some more time to cure.
Infants and children below the age of 5 need extra care, and may require hospitalisation, as an infection at a tender age can prove to be dangerous. The whooping cough vaccine is given to a baby when it is 2-4 months old and followed up by booster doses when the baby is 3yrs old and later when it is 5 year old.