What is it?
Whooping cough or pertussis is a highly infectious disease of the breathing passages. It is characterised by a severe cough which persists over several weeks. It mainly affects infants and young children.
Symptoms: Whooping cough has an incubation period of seven to fourteen days before symptoms appear. The early symptoms mimic those of a cold-runny nose, dry cough, and slight fever. After a few days the symptoms worsen and the coughing becomes more severe. Coughing occurs in bouts up to a minute long. During the paroxysms of coughing air is expelled from the chest and as the child gasps for breath, the characteristics “whooping” noise is made. Vomiting often occurs after a bad bout of coughing, coughing is worse at night. The severe coughing phase can last up to ten weeks. Whooping cough is infectious seven days after exposure to three weeks after onset of symptoms. The latter is shortened to seven days if antibiotics are administered.
Possible complications: Pneumonia, encephalitis
Treatment in the home: Give plenty of fluids and small frequent meals; protect the child from stimuli that can cause coughing, for example smoke, draughts, too much excitement. Comfort and reassure the child.
When to consult a doctor: As soon as symptoms appear, if there is severe difficulty in breathing and if the child turns blue during a bout of coughing.
What the doctor may do: Prescribe antibiotics if the illness is diagnosed early, or if secondary infection develops. If given in the early stages of the disease, antibiotics may reduce the severity of the symptoms. Admit the child to hospital if persistently vomits after coughing.