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What is Whooping Cough?

What is Whooping cough
Dr. Monika Bhanushali
Dr. Monika Bhanushali
August12/ 2016

Whooping cough known as pertussis in medical terminology is a bacterial disease which is highly contagious. It is also known as ‘100 days’ cough.

Almost 16 million people are affected with whooping cough every year. The occurrence of whooping cough is more common in the developing world. People from most of the age group can get infected by this disease but the occurrence is more common and as well severe in children. Almost 50,000 people succumb to death because of this deadly infection.

Whooping cough is caused by a bacterium “Bordetella pertussis”. This bacterium gets transmitted through the air. The transmission mostly occurs from the sneezing and coughing of the infected individuals in the air. The infection is contagious for about 3 weeks since the day od contraction of the disease.


At the beginning of the disease, symptoms like running nose, fever and mild cough are seen which may lead to a misdiagnosis of common cold.

Then the person may present with severe classical symptoms such as

  1. Paroxysmal cough (severe bouts of coughing)
  2. Fainting after coughing
  3. Vomiting after coughing
  4. High pitched whoops sound on breathing in air

It can also give result to

  1. Bleeding in the eyes due to severe coughing
  2. Rib fracture because of the force of coughing
  3. Pneumothorax due to forceful coughing


The diagnosis is usually based on the following parameters:

  1. Complete blood count: there is increase in the number of a type of white blood cells known as lymphocytes.
  2. Nose and throat swab: a swab of throat and nose in taken and examined. Presence of the bacteria in these secretions confirm the diagnosis of pertussis.
  3. Serological tests: tests such as compliment fixation tests and other tests such as polymerase chain reaction and antibody testing can also be used to diagnose pertussis.
  4. Chest X Ray: sometimes a Chest X ray is also useful to rule out other conditions and making the diagnosis.


Following modalities are used to treat whooping cough.

  1. Hospitalization: it is better to admit the children affected as they can present with complications sooner than the adults.
  2. Anti bacterials: they are the mainstay of the treatment.Anti- biotics like erythromycin or azithromycin are the recommended drugs.
  3. Oxygen: in children who get period of breathlessness oxygen is necessary.
  4. Rehydration: saline is given if the child shows signs of dehydration.
  5. Suctioning of the air ways: a child may need suction to clear airways of the secretions accumulated.

The antibiotics prove to be more beneficial if given before the coughing phase of the disease starts.


If left untreated, it can result in following complications,

  1. Pneumonia
  2. Bronchitis
  3. Encephalopathy
  4. Seizures
  5. Death


The first method of prevention is vaccination.

Vaccination: vaccine for pertussis is recommended by the World Health Organisation and CDC.  The vaccine is 85% effective and it has saved many lives over the course of last few years. The infants should be vaccinated between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Four doses are given in the first 2 years of the baby’s life.

It is very important to vaccinate the babies in order to avoid risk of whooping cough.

Dr. Monika Bhanushali
Dr. Monika Bhanushali

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