Whooping Cough


Whooping cough can be prevented with a vaccine but the disease continues to appear in sporadic outbreaks. Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that targets the upper respiratory tract, and those who have it suffer from violent fits of coughing followed by a distinct “whoop” sound as the person gasps for breath. Naturally, the laryngeal structures are swollen and they vibrate during a quick inflow of air, thereby producing that noise. Whooping cough is also known as pertussis, named after the bacterium Bordetella pertussis and it spreads rapidly in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or just exhales. A person may not know that he or she has whooping cough because early symptoms resemble the common cold with only a mild cough. When was whooping cough first recognized as a threat to public health?


A Short History of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough has been around for centuries, and at a time when diseases were poorly understood and vaccines didn’t exist, the illness claimed many lives. Two French scientists – Jules Bordet and Octave Gengou – isolated the bacterium responsible for whooping cough in 1906. In the 1920s, doctors were able to control infectious diseases such as smallpox and typhoid fever, but whooping cough was a tougher nut to crack.

Effective vaccines weren’t available yet, and whooping cough killed more children than scarlet fever and measles combined. By the 1970s, cases of whooping cough decreased sharply due to the introduction of a “whole-cell” vaccine, made of dead bacteria. It seemed medical science triumphed at last.


Who is at Risk for Whooping Cough?

As in the past, infants who aren’t vaccinated can end up is serious trouble if they fall ill with whooping cough. In many cases, another family member passes the disease to everyone in the home. A large percentage of the U.S. population is vaccinated against whooping cough, and they may think it provides a lifetime of immunity. It doesn’t. Adolescents and adults should receive booster shots to minimize the chance of making somebody else sick, and the whooping cough vaccine is part of the combined TDP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) formula.


How is Whooping Cough Treated?

Infants with whooping cough must be treated with antibiotics and kept in isolation. Severe cases may require corticosteroid medication to remedy inflamed airways. For older children and adults, symptoms aren’t so bad and these cases can be treated with such medicines as erythromycin and sulfamethoxazole.

The infection can also be managed at home with plenty of rest and taking drugs to reduce pain – ibuprofen, for example. Whooping cough doesn’t clear up so fast, and even after the initial runny nose goes away the cough is just beginning. It might get so bad that a child can’t eat or sleep, so it’s imperative to seek medical attention.



It seems that whooping cough is coming back with a vengeance. In the United States in 2014, a staggering 32,971 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control. Many of these people were adolescents, between thirteen and fifteen years. The old vaccines aren’t offering protection anymore and the microbes are adapting faster than anticipated.

The last time whooping cough was so prevalent Dwight Eisenhower was the American President!

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