Whooping Cough which is also known by the medical name Pertussis, is a respiratory tract infection spread by airborne droplets. Babies and children are most commonly affected and half of all cases occur before the age of two years.
With the introduction of Whooping Cough vaccine, the incidence of the disease has decreased dramatically. However, there is always the possibility of a young child who has not been immunised, catching Whooping Cough with all of its serious complications.
The incubation period is 7 to 14 days which is followed by the onset of what appears to be an upper respiratory tract viral infection - a very mild fever, sneezing, a running nose and a hacking, “whooping” cough which worries the child at night.
The cough is the clue to the diagnosis and gradually after approximately a week to 10 days the cough has developed into a series of rapid consecutive coughs followed by a deep, hurried taking in of air. This produces the characteristic “whoop”.
Spasms of coughing may involve up to to a dozen coughs before breath is taken and may occur up to 50 times in 24 hours. The cough is productive of large amounts of mucus. Vomiting of mucus and food is common during the spasms of coughing.
The child is infectious whilst the coughing of mucus and nasal discharge is present. This lasts generally for about 4 weeks.
Complications include choking which in the infant may lead to convulsions, cerebral hemorrhage, brain damage and death. Hernias of the rectum or abdomen can occur and bleeding from small ruptured blood vessels of the eye, face and neck may occur also. Inhaled secretions into the lungs during the whoops can cause lung complications including pneumonia and collapse of the lungs.
Treatment consists of good nursing with antibiotics as both a preventative and a treatment of bacterial complications involving mainly the lungs.
Your local doctor should supervise the various stages of whooping cough which in the young child can be a very serious disease.
Nutrition is important, as with the persistent cough and vomiting, frequent small feeds may be necessary. In severe cases it may be necessary to give intravenous fluids this may necessitate hospitalisation. Sedative and expectorant cough mixtures are only of slight benefit.
All children should be vaccinated against whooping cough at two months of age.
Even with this immunity it is possible to suffer from a less severe form of Whooping Cough later on in life with the appearance of a modified persistent cough.
If a child who has been immunised against Whooping Cough is exposed to the disease, it is wise for that child to have a booster dose of the Whooping Cough vaccine.
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