Whooping Cough, medically known as Pertussis is a bacterial disease that is characterized by uncontrollable, violent coughing. The severe coughing can make it harder to breath for the patient. Hence a ‘whooping’ sound is often heard when the patient tries take a breath.
The disease affects the respiratory tract and the lungs and is caused by bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is highly communicable, through tiny droplets containing the bacteria, which are released into the air when an infected person coughs. The illness affects persons of any age and is said to last for six weeks before subsiding.
It was initially said to be most common amongst unimmunized infants and young children. If not treated in time, it could cause permanent disability in infants, and even death. However now that most children are immunized at the age of 1 or 2 years the higher percentage of cases is seen among adolescents and adults. Recent studies suggest that adults are becoming susceptible to whooping cough and share a part of 25% of cases. The disease however seems to be in the mild form in adults, and therefore is frequently missed, thus allowing the bacteria to spread to the more vulnerable, infants and children.
However if neglected, whooping cough can lead to subconjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding on the white part of the eye, pneumothorax or bursting of lung and hernia or popping out of the intestine through the skin near groin.
Initially, about a week after exposure to the bacteria, symptoms akin to common cold like a runny nose, sneezing, slight fever and mild cough usually develop. This is called the catarrhal stage.
After one to two weeks, the second which is called the paroxysmal stage, begins. In this stage one experiences long spells of rapid coughing. Prolonged coughing may lead to vomiting, loss of consciousness. During an attack, the individual may become cyanotic (turn blue) from lack of oxygen. In infants, breathlessness and choking is common. Cough Spells frequently occur at night, with an average of 15-24 attacks per 24 hours. This lasts for two to three weeks after which the spells gradually begin to decrease in frequency.
The third stage is the gradual recovery or convalescent stage. The cough becomes less severe and usually disappears over two to three weeks.
Antibiotics are a common and effective means for treating whooping cough, especially when administered early in the course of the disease. This can also help prevent transmission to other family members or to those who may come in contact with the infected patient. Medicines containing antibiotics like Azithromycin, clarithromycin, erythromycin, trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole have been shown to be effective in treating whooping cough. General measures include providing adequate nutrition, hydration and avoiding factors aggravating cough such as excessive crying. Infants younger than 18 months need constant supervision because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Infants with severe cases should be hospitalized.
Timely diagnosis of the disease and administration of antibiotics can go a long way in curing it and preventing fatalities.
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