Want to know what whooping cough is? What the symptoms are?

Here are answers to frequently asked questions based on advice from the American Medical Association.

We know: 1-Minute Lesson on Whooping Cough

What is whooping cough?

Also called pertussis, whooping cough is an infection of the respiratory tract that is caused by a bacteria.

Is it contagious?

Yes, very. It's spread when a person inhales the contaminated droplets from the cough or sneeze of someone who is infected.

Aren't we usually immunized against whooping cough?

Yes, most infants in the United States are immunized against it, but the immunity fades as your reach early adulthood. So, most teenagers and adults in the U.S. are no longer immune. Currently, about 1/4 of the whooping cough cases in the county occur in teenagers and adults.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Once a non-immunized child is exposed and infected, it takes from 3 to 21 days for the symptoms of whooping cough to develop.

Initial symptoms are similar to a cold and include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery, red eyes
  • Mild fever
  • Dry cough

After 1-2 weeks, the cough becomes wet and brings up a thick, stringy mucus. Coughing spells are longer, and may cause the victim to turn red or blue. At the end of the coughing spell, there is a gasp for air or a 'whoop'. Infants may not have a pronounced whoop.

Hard coughing spells may lead to vomiting and tiny red spots on the skin's surface, and bleeding in the whites of the eyes.

Severe coughing spells, lasting for weeks, can lead to vomiting and may make it hard for a child to eat or drink.

Adults and teenagers may have milder symptoms than children, which may be mistaken for bronchitis.

What is the treatment for whooping cough?

If you believe someone in your family may have whooping cough, see you doctor immediately. Tests can detect the disease.

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics which are available by prescription from a doctor. The doctor may also prescribe preventive antibiotics or immunizations for others in the family.

Also, follow your doctor's advice about how to deal with coughing spells, and ensure that your child eats and drinks proper amounts.

Some patients, particularly infants, often need to be hospitalized.

How can whooping cough be prevented?

Most whooping cough is prevented by a series of DPT (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) immunizations given to children. People living or working around an infected person should be given a preventive antibiotic.

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