by David Rothwell, MD
We’ve known for years that pertussis more commonly known as ‘whooping cough’ has made a big come back. After years of being rather successfully suppressed, it has returned with a vengeance and can be anything from a nuisance to deadly. Certainly not an infection to be ignored!
Whooping cough is contagious. You can prevent whooping cough by getting the vaccine that protect you from the disease. This is the same vaccine that helps prevent tetanus. I’ll refrain from boring you with the reason for the combination, but it’s much more important to get the shot for pertussis. I’ve been a physician for 17 years and have yet to see ONE case of tetanus.
Whooping cough can lead to other problems such as pneumonia. These problems can be very serious in adults ages 60 and older and in young children, especially babies who are born early or have not had vaccine to prevent pertussis. With good care, most people recover from whooping cough with no problems. You can get whooping cough more than one time, and you may get it years apart. But you will be less likely to get it again if you get the vaccines as recommended.
Some obligatory background on pertussis and its effects:
- Whooping cough is caused by bacteria that infect the top of the throat (pharynx) where it meets the nasal passages. The bacteria bother the throat, which causes coughing.
- Whooping cough spreads easily from person to person. When someone with the disease coughs, sneezes, or laughs, tiny drops of fluid holding the bacteria are put into the air. The bacteria can infect others when they breathe in the drops or get them on their hands and touch their mouth or nose.
- After the bacteria infect someone, symptoms appear about 7 to 14 days later. Adults usually have milder symptoms than children. How bad your symptoms are also depends on whether you had the vaccine and how long ago it was.
- Symptoms of whooping cough usually last 6 to 10 weeks, but they may last longer.
In young children, three stages can occur. Older children and adults don’t always have the same stages.
- The first stage is similar to a cold and can last up to 2 weeks and you’re most contagious during this stage.
- In the second stage, the cold symptoms subside but the cough remains another 2-4 weeks, and can affect breathing.
- Final stage involves slow resolution of the cough over several weeks with spells of coughing that can remain quite intense.
Please note that those who are vaccinated have minimal or less intense symptoms and duration of disease. Diagnosis is almost always based on history although a swab and culture may confirm. It does take 10-14 days to get culture results back so presumptive diagnosis and treatment are mandatory! Don’t wait to get on antibiotics!
The take home here is to get your vaccine boosters, talk with your provider if you’re unsure, and wash those hands.
David Rothwell, M.D.
6307 Waterford Blvd, Ste. 127
Oklahoma City, OK 73118