Whooping cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough is an infectious disease caused by bacteria (Bordetella pertussis). It can affect people of all ages, but about half of all cases occur before age 2. It is sometimes difficult to make a diagnosis based on its symptoms since they resemble those of many other infections.

Appearance

The illness usually appears 7 to 10 days, rarely more than 14 days, after contact with the organism.

Symptoms

In the beginning, the illness can be perceived as a common cold that lasts about 2 weeks. Then fits of coughing appear, often with vomiting and a choking sensation. The end of a fit is sometimes followed by a characteristic whoop, a hurried, deep inspiration. Fever is rare. The illness usually lasts 6 to 10 weeks. Young children can become seriously ill and require hospitalization.

Transmission

Whooping cough is transmitted by nasal and throat secretions sprayed into the air during a cough. Patients remain infectious until 3 weeks after the cough has appeared. Antibiotics reduce the duration of the infectious period to 4 to 7 days. It is often recommended that all members of the infected individual's family be treated as well.

A vaccine against whooping cough is part of the regular immunization schedule. Even though vaccinated people can still catch the disease, they usually become less ill than those who are not vaccinated. One attack does not confer immunity for life.

Remember that washing your hands frequently is a simple measure that significantly reduces the risk of transmitting most contagious diseases!

For more information:
Canadian Paediatric Society
www.cps.ca

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