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  • Whooping Cough or Pertussis Is Potentially Fatal for Babies and Young Kids

    Whooping cough, a.k.a. pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory infection.
    by Rachel Perez .
Whooping Cough or Pertussis Is Potentially Fatal for Babies and Young Kids
PHOTO BY iStock
  • After measles, dengue, and polio, the medical community says expect to see rising cases of other vaccine-preventable diseases. On the list for alarm: chicken pox, diptheria and pertussis or more commonly known as whooping cough.

    Chicken pox can be prevented with the varicella vaccine. And diptheria and pertussis can be addressed with the DTaP vaccine, which provides protection against diptheria, tetanus and pertussis. It is one of the first required shots for babies and for a valid reason: all three are deadly diseases and can be fatal for infants and children. Both diptheria and pertussis are highly contagious.

    What is whooping cough or pertussis and what causes it

    There are different types of cough, and most of the time, it’s a symptom of an illness, like the flu. But pertussis or whooping cough is different. It’s a contagious respiratory illness caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. The bacteria attaches itself to the cilia or the small hairs found inside the nose, and that also lines part of the upper respiratory system. As the bacteria releases toxins that impair the cilia and cause inflammation of the airways, making it difficult for an infected person to breathe.

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    According to the Mayo Clinic, whooping cough is primarily considered a childhood disease before the vaccine. Today, cases of pertussis and related deaths are mostly infants who are too young to receive the vaccine or children who have not completed the full immunization course. Teens and adults whose immunity to whooping cough has faded are also vulnerable to the diseases.

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    Signs and symptoms of whooping cough

    The bacteria is spread from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from an infected person’s nose or mouth. Children and adults can quickly get pertussis when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and by just spending a lot of time near one another and sharing breathing space. Infants and very young kids usually get infected by family members or caregivers who probably don’t even know they have the bacteria in their system.

    Whooping cough is most contagious during the first two weeks after infection when symptoms are just starting to manifest. It takes five to 10 days for a child infected with pertussis to manifest signs and symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It typically starts as a simple cold. Early symptoms of whooping cough usually persist during the first week or two. These include:

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    • Runny nose
    • Red, watery eyes
    • Sore throat
    • Low-grade fever
    • Mild, occasional cough (babies sometimes don’t cough at all)
    • Labored breathing in babies
    • Apnea, a condition when a child or adult stops breathing for about 15 to 20 seconds while asleep

    Within the first two weeks, the child’s airways become inflamed and the symptoms of pertussis will worsen. Thick mucus also accumulates in the airways, causing the following symptoms:

    • Extreme, rapid coughing fits, sometimes with a high-pitched “whoop” sound during the next breath of air
    • Provoke vomiting
    • Red-colored face caused by strain in coughing
    • Blue-hued face, a sign that an infant is having trouble breathing
    • Extreme fatigue

    To give you an idea of what whooping cough sounds like in a 4-month-old, the video below can help.

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    Read the full story here.

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    Diagnosis and treatment of pertussis

    If your child is starting to show symptoms of extreme coughing with vomiting, consult a doctor right away, especially if your baby is younger than 6 months old. When left untreated, whooping cough may lead to complications such as:

    • pneumonia, a lung infectionapnea
    • slowed or stopped breathing
    • dehydration or weight loss due to vomiting and difficulty in feeding
    • seizures and convulsions or violent shaking
    • brain damage due to encephalopathy or disease of the brain

    After a physical examination and taking into account the symptoms present, a lab test performed on a sample of your child’s mucus will help your doctor diagnose pertussis.

    Treatment of whooping cough involves antibiotics, which can also make the infection less contagious if started early or before the violent coughing starts. Around half of the kids younger than age 1 who are infected with pertussis require hospital care.

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    When continuing antibiotic treatment at home, parents canuse a cool-mist vaporizer to help loosen the mucus and soothe the child’s cough. Make sure you also get rid of irritants like dust in the home and that your child drinks lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.

    How to prevent whooping cough

    Experts agree that the best way to protect your babies against whooping cough and its potentially life-threatening complications is to get him vaccinated. While no vaccine is 100-percent effective, the DTaP vaccine drastically reduces your child’s likelihood of getting infected with diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Strictly follow the doses and booster shots according to the vaccination schedule set by your child’s pediatrician, and it will protect your child against pertussis throughout childhood.

    The DtaP vaccine is safe but may cause only the expected minimal side effects such as fever and redness or swelling in the injection site. Some children may also experience fussiness, tiredness, or vomiting. Allergic reactions can happen, but it is rare. Bring your child to the ER if he has been crying nonstop and have a fever of over 40.55°C, or had seizures.

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