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Whooping cough - pertussis

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Whooping cough is still a very serious disease when it occurs in children under the age of one year old. Although it initially resembles an ordinary cold, whooping cough eventually turns much more serious. In the more advanced stages, The symptom that gives the disease its name are severe, hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like whoop.

These coughing spells don't just leave you gasping for air. They can be so violent they cause bruised or broken ribs and vomiting - even choking or a momentary loss of consciousness, especially in children and infants.

In the first half of the 20th century, whooping cough was a leading cause of childhood illness and death. But after the introduction of a vaccine in the 1940s, the number of cases gradually declined, reaching a low in the 1980s. The incidence of whooping cough increased steadily since the 1980s, however, primarily among children too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations.

Whooping cough is also on the rise among teenagers and adults, principally because immunity from the vaccine tends to decrease with age. With proper care, however, most teenagers and adults recover from whooping cough without complications. The disease is much more serious in children, especially infants younger than 6 months of age.

Signs and symptoms

Once you become infected with whooping cough, it takes a few days to a few weeks for signs and symptoms to appear. When they do, they're usually mild at first and resemble those of a common cold, such as:

  • A runny nose

  • Nasal congestion

  • Sneezing

  • Red, watery eyes

  • A mild fever

  • Dry cough

  • Malaise and loss of appetite

After a week or two, signs and symptoms become worse and usually include:

  • Severe coughing attacks that bring up thick phlegm.

  • Coughing attacks — up to 15 coughs in a row — that end with a high-pitched whoop sound as you gasp for air. These may be so severe that you vomit or turn red or blue from the effort.

  • Fatigue from coughing so much.

In adults, signs and symptoms of whooping cough may resemble those of bronchitis, a respiratory infection that causes a nagging cough. Babies and infants with whooping cough may not whoop at all, or at least not as loudly as older children do. Some children with whooping cough may experience choking spells and turn blue in the face as they struggle to breathe after a coughing fit.

Severe coughing can result in tiny red spots caused by ruptures in blood vessels at the skin's surface (petechiae) in the skin of your upper body, as well as small areas of bleeding in the whites of your eyes. You may even bruise or break a rib if your coughing episodes are severe. Coughing may be worse at night.

With time, coughing usually lessens, but the cough can persist for six weeks or longer. Some people may even experience recurring episodes of coughing over the course of a year, especially when they contract a cold or other respiratory infection.


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