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Whooping Cough

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Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the lining of the respiratory tract (breathing tubes).

Pertussis is known as "whooping cough" because of the "whooping" sound that is made when gasping for air after a fit of coughing.

Whooping cough is very contagious. It is spread by sneezing and coughing.

Symptoms of whooping cough begin within 1 to 2 weeks of exposure. Coughing fits due to pertussis infection can last for up to 10 weeks or more; sometimes known as the "100 day cough."

It can be serious in very young children and babies, who have small breathing tubes. More than half of infants less than 1 year of age who get pertussis must be hospitalized and in some of these it is life threatening.

Worldwide, there are 30-50 million cases of pertussis and about 300,000 deaths per year.

Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics, which are used to control the symptoms and to prevent infected people from spreading the disease.


  • Runny nose
  • Plugged nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery, red eyes
  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Dry cough- that gets worse over about 2 weeks, and can last for months
    • Long coughing spells
    • Sudden coughing spells
    • Thick mucus
    • Whooping sound, as they try to get their breath (not always heard)
    • The face may change colour-red or bluish, while coughing
    • Small blood vessels in the skin of the face may break, causing small red spots on the skin
    • Coughing may be worse at night
    • Vomiting (throwing up) because of the amount of coughing

Care at home

  • Rest
  • Stay home, so the cough is not spread to others
  • The doctor may give you an antibiotic
  • After the antibiotic is finished, the cough should no longer be contagious
  • Small, frequent meals
  • Drink plenty of water, juice and broth
  • Over the counter cough medicines do not usually help
  • No smoking or wood fires in the home

When to see a doctor

  • For any follow up appointments
  • Seizures (convulsions)
  • Trouble breathing
  • Noisy breathing
  • Ear aches
  • Slow or stopped breathing spells
  • Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, extreme thirst, little or no urine/pee)
  • Confusion
  • High fever
  • Coughing up green or yellow mucus
  • Signs of a hernia: bulging spots in the abdomen (stomach)


  • The most effective way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination with DTaP for infants and children and with Tdap for pre-teens, teens and adults — protection from the childhood vaccine fades over time.
  • Vaccinated children and adults can become infected with and transmit pertussis; however, disease is less likely to be severe.
  • Booster vaccination of pre-teens, teens and adults with Tdap is especially important for families with new infants.

Mayo clinic, Whooping cough, 2006
American Medical association, Pertussis, 2006
Nemours, Kids Health, Whooping cough, 2005
CDC, Whooping Cough 2011

Protect you and your little ones. Get immunized for whooping cough.

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