Pertussis or whooping cough is an infectious disease of bacterial origin that affects the lungs and the upper respiratory tract , causing a violent and uncontrollable cough that can last for weeks or even months.
Newborns and young children are the most affected population , although it can also occur in adolescents and adults, even if they received the vaccine during their childhood.
Timely treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms. It aims to avoid complications, accelerate the recovery process and, above all, help prevent the spread of infection to nearby people.
How do you get pertussis?
Pertussis is caused by the gram-negative bacterium Bordetella pertussis . This is transmitted through contact with an infected person , through small particles of saliva that are expelled when talking, coughing or sneezing.
Babies and young children who have not completed their vaccination schedule are at higher risk of contracting the disease. For a person to obtain full immunity he must have received at least three doses of vaccination.
Adolescents and adults who have contact with a sick person have a 90% chance of getting it. A large number of cases are produced by the decrease in immunity that occurs over time.
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Symptoms of whooping cough
In its initial stages, whooping cough manifests with symptoms similar to those of a common cold:
- Nasal congestion
- Tearing and redness of the eyes
- Lack of appetite
- Moderate fever
Approximately two weeks later, more severe symptoms of the infection begin to manifest themselves . These include:
- Violent and uncontrollable cough
- Forced breathing
- A shrill whistling sound when breathing
- Chronic fatigue
- Vomiting (when a lot of effort is made when coughing)
- Change of color in the face when coughing
The diagnosis of whooping cough can be complicated in the early stages because, often, the symptoms are confused with those of other respiratory diseases. For this reason, after evaluating the patient, the doctor may suggest tests such as:
- A microbiological analysis by PCR (polymerase chain reaction)
- Blood test
- Chest x-ray (to check for complications such as pneumonia)
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The treatment of whooping cough depends to a large extent on the age of the patient and, above all, on the stage at which the infection is found. Timely intervention helps reduce the severity of symptoms and the likelihood of contagion to others. In addition, it aims to avoid other complications.
Hospitalization is one of the first measures to treat whooping cough. This occurs, above all, in the population at greatest risk: babies and children. Often, patients are isolated to prevent the bacteria from spreading.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection and, as such, should be treated with antibiotics. These medicines help kill the microorganisms that cause the disease and make it less contagious.
However, it should be clarified that they do not alleviate the symptoms as such and are only effective when they are administered in the initial phases. For this reason, they are usually administered from before the results of the analyzes arrive.
- The most used antibiotic is erythromycin . In severe cases it is used for 14 days, in the mildest only 7.
- Other agents used are azithromycin and clarithromycin.
- If the infection is resistant to any of the above , the administration of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole may be considered.
Supportive therapy for serious cases
When the infection is complicated, most of the time it is necessary to take into account some measures to facilitate breathing such as:
- Treatment with oxygen.
- Administration of intravenous fluids.
- Antibiotics for other infections.
- Sedatives Recommended to help fall asleep in children.
- Corticosteroids They reduce inflammation of the airways affected by the infection.
To cope with the symptoms in the home , some basic care should be taken into account.
- Ensure a calm environment for the patient.
- Provide plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration.
- Make small and frequent meals to avoid vomiting.
- Release spaces of irritating compounds such as smoke, dust or chemical vapors.
- Humidify the air.
- Use saline solution if necessary.
Prevention is a vital measure to prevent the spread. Patients, whether children or adults, should be isolated to avoid spreading to other people, and they should wash their hands and the lining of the mouth and nose several times a day. The best preventive measure is vaccination. It is a treatment that consists of 5 injections administered sequentially according to the following scheme:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15 to 18 months
- 4 to 6 years
The vaccine has mild side effects that include:
- Moderate fever
- Bad mood
- Feeling tired
- Pain or discomfort at the injection site
Since the immunity of the pertussis vaccine decreases with the passage of time, it is recommended the application of booster injections during adolescence, adulthood and the stage of pregnancy.
- Alberto E. Tozzi, Lucia Pastore Celentano, Marta Luisa Ciofi degli Atti and Stefania Salmaso. CMAJ February 15, 2005 172 (4) 509-515; DOI:
- Baker C. (DRT), “Whooping cough”, chap. 109 in Red Book. Atlas of infectious diseases in pediatrics , Buenos Aires, Editorial Medica Panamericana, 2007, p. 308. .
- Baker JP and Katz SL, “Childhood vaccine development: an overview”, Pediatr. Res. 2004, 55 ( 2 ): 347-356. .