Whooping Cough – Causes And Symptoms Of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is medically popular as Pertussis. The bacterium Bordetella pertussis is the causative organism of this highly contagious disease. One episode of whooping cough lasts for about 6 weeks to subside. The child suffering from Pertussis makes a ‘whoop’ sound following a cough while attempting to inhale. This is how the name was coined as ‘Whooping Cough’. This disease is common in children and babies but never seen among adults.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

The primary symptoms of whooping cough in a child begins with following signs –

  • mild coughing,
  • running nose,
  • sneezing

These signs show the catarrhal stage and continues for about 7-10 days. All the above symptoms occur during the incubation period. But after 1-2 weeks, more severity can be observed with the above signs like –

  • coughs developing into uncontrollable fits
  • each fit would come with about 5-10 forceful coughs
  • each cough followed by high-pitched “whoop” sound
  • the whoop sound may be interpreted as the patient struggling to breathe

These symptoms are included in the paroxysmal stage. But other more severe signs include –

  • coughing fits followed by vomiting
  • malnutrition in the child
  • fits triggered by eating, laughing, stretching, yawning or yelling
  • fits occurring in groups with multiple episodes observed every hour
  • This is a more severe stage which lasts for about 2-8 weeks or more

Following these stages, a gradual transition is seen to the convalescent stage. This new stage usually lasts for about 1-2 weeks with chronic coughs. The sudden outbursts of coughing is somehow lessened. But the complicating part comes when other conditions of complications arise like –

  • earache
  • encephalopathy
  • pneumonia
  • or seizures

The infection in most severe in newborns.

Causes of Whooping Cough

Humans are the only reservoirs of the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which causes the infection. A person infected with Pertussis exhales air-borne droplets infected with this bacterium. When a healthy person inhales these droplets, he gets the infection. The person who is unvaccinated gets the infection else, vaccinated persons do not suffer from infection even after inhalation of the infected droplets.

This bacterium then thrives in the respiratory passages of the human body. The respiratory passages have cilia or tiny hairy-structures on its surface. These cilia help in removing the cellular debris and the particulates, that are undesirably introduced into the passage while breathing.

The bacteria produce toxins in those area, damaging these cilia. This leads to increased chances of inflammation in the respiratory passages causing a typical cough. This cough is the hallmark of pertussis infection.

It takes about 7 days for the infection to spread to severity. The period of infection is within 7 days from the day of infection to about 3 weeks following the onset of the cough spasms. This is the first stage of illness. The primary reservoir of the infection are the adults and the adolescents.

The most contagious stage is the catarrhal stage. But the condition takes time to be diagnosed due to late onset of the typical cough at the paroxysmal stage.

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