Whooping cough is a respiratory infection (infection of the lungs) which causes long bursts of coughing. The infection is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is another name for whooping cough.
Whooping cough is very easy to catch. It is spread by tiny drops of fluid when coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread on hands to the nose if the hands have come in contact with the bacteria. For example, if your child is already infected and you wipe their nose with a tissue then wipe another child's nose you can easily spread the infection on your hands.
70 -100% of people living in the same house as a person with whooping cough are usually infected.
It is particularly serious in babies under six months of age. They will usually need to be admitted to hospital. Children and adults can also get it. Most children and adults do not become very unwell, but may cough for many weeks.
There is an immunisation for whooping cough. Children who have been immunised can still get whooping cough but it is usually not so serious.Signs and symptoms
Whooping cough usually starts with symptoms like a cold, such as a runny nose and dry cough, which last for about one week.
After that, a more definite cough develops, which may last for many weeks. The cough comes in long spells and often ends with a high pitched 'whoop' sound when they breathe in.
Some children cough so much they vomit afterwards.
Children are usually well between coughing spells.
In more severe cases, babies and children may have problems catching their breath after a coughing spasm.
Other infections such as pneumonia (chest infection) and middle ear infections are common.
Other family members often also have a cough.
Very young babies under six months of age may have pauses in breathing (called apnoeas) instead of a cough. How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will often decide if your child has whooping cough by asking you questions about their cough or by actually seeing one of the coughing spasms.
Tests of secretions from the nose and blood tests can sometimes be helpful in confirming the diagnosis. However, the germ (organism) may not be detected if your child has had a cough for 3 weeks or more, or if they were started on antibiotics before the sample was taken. Treatment
The type of treatment depends on many things including:
The age of your child.
How severe the symptoms are.
How long your child has had the symptoms.
As whooping cough is most severe in young babies, they are more likely to be admitted to hospital to be watched closely. Older children who are more unwell also usually need to stay in hospital. The time it takes to get better is different for each child. Antibiotics
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for your child, but these are not always necessary. Treatment with antibiotics reduces the amount of time your child is infectious (to 5 days or less). If your child has been coughing for more than 3 weeks, they are no longer infectious. In these cases, antibiotics are not usually needed. Going to school
Your child should not attend school or day-care:
For 3 weeks from the start of the cough, if no antibiotics are given
Until they have had at least 5 days of their course of antibiotics.
If there is an outbreak of Whooping cough and your child is not immunised, then they will have to stay away from kindergarten or school for 3 weeks or until the outbreak settles. Treatment of contacts
Whooping cough is easily spread. Often other family members or close contacts also have the infection.
Whooping cough is infectious just before and for 3 weeks after the start of the cough. If your child is given antibiotics, they can still spread the infection until they have had five days of antibiotics.
Antibiotics should be given to anyone living in the same house or who have had very close contact with your child while they were infectious. These include women in the last month of pregnancy and babies less than a month of age. Prevention
Complete immunisation of children is the best way to control whooping cough.
Vaccination is offered to all children at 2, 4, 6 months and at 4 years.
All parents with children under 8 years should check that their child's immunisations are up to date and ask their doctor to catch up on any missed doses.
If your child has been in contact with whooping cough they may need an antibiotic to protect them. You should talk to your doctor about this.
By law, doctors treating patients with suspected or confirmed whooping cough must notify the Department of Human Services (The Health Department). The health department keeps a record of how many children have the infection each year. Care at Home
Give your child small frequent meals and fluids often (such as sips of water or smaller feeds but more often).
For temporary relief from the cough you can seat your child on your lap in a steamy bathroom or use steam therapy in the bedroom. Take care not to scald yourself or your child. You can also use a cool mist vaporiser.
Taking care of a child with Whooping cough can be stressful. Ask for help from family and friends so that you can catch up with sleep.
Try to keep your home free of irritants- such as smoke (cigarette and from a fireplace, aerosol sprays, dust and pet hair. Key points to remember
Whooping cough is especially dangerous in babies under 6 months of age. They will usually need to be admitted to hospital.
Whooping cough is easily spread and often other family members or close contacts are infected.
If your child has been coughing for more than 21 days (3 weeks), they are no longer infectious. These children do not usually need antibiotics.