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Whooping cough causes, symptoms and treatment in children

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the respiratory system. According to the Health Protection Agency, the total number of reported cases of whooping cough in England and Wales during the course of 2012 as at October was 6,121. 10 deaths of babies resulting from whooping cough complications were recorded in this period. The situation is not better in other parts of the world.

What causes of whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis (or B. pertussis), leading is one of the most contagious bacterial infections known. The disease mainly affects infants aged six months and under who are not adequately protected by immunisation. It may also affect children aged between 11 and 18 years whose immunity has waned or faded away.

Symptoms of whooping cough

Initial symptoms of whooping cough in children are similar to those of a common cold. They include:

  • dry cough
  • running nose
  • sneezing, and
  • mild fever.

One or two weeks after initial symptoms of the disease are seen, dry coughs become prolonged coughing spells that can last for more than a minute. During the long coughing spells, the child may turn purple or red.

After the coughing spell ends, the child may vomit or make the characteristic whooping sound when breathing in. In between coughing spells, the child appears okay and even feels well.

Treatment of whooping cough

Treatment of whooping cough is done with antibiotics for about two weeks. Doctors believe the treatment is most effective when done in the first stage of the illness just before coughing spells begin.

Treatment is often done at home, but infants and younger children may need to be hospitalised for treatment because they are at greater risk of developing other complications, such as pneumonia.

Preventive measures

Prevention is always better than cure. Prevent occurrence of whooping cough by ensuring children are vaccinated against the disease. Take your child for pertussis immunisation, which is routinely given in five doses before the child reaches its sixth birthday.

Follow up this immunisation with a routine booster shot of Td combination vaccine or the newer Tdap combination vaccine between ages 11 and 18. Ideally, take your children for the recommended booster vaccination when the child is 11 or 12 years.

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