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Information about Pertussis Whooping Cough

Pertussis is more commonly known as ‘Whooping Cough’ which is caused by the bacterium Bordetella Pertussis, believed to have first appeared in the 16th century, however it was not given its official named until 1906.

A vaccination was not developed until 1940, before then over 250,000 cases occurred annually with an average of 9000 deaths each year. In 1976, approximately 36 years after the vaccine was developed the incidences of whooping cough had decreased by 99%.

Bordetella Pertussis is a bacterium which resides in the mucus membrane of the upper-respiratory tract, namely the nose, mouth and throat. It is a highly contagious disease which is characterised by violent periodic coughing, that interferes with the normal breathing pattern, giving rise to the ‘whooping’ sound when the sufferer tries to inhale or breath in. The whooping sound is rare in adults and babies under six months old, making early diagnoses in infants particularly difficult in which case a diagnosis is ususlly arrived at with full blood count and nasal swabs.

The early symptoms of Pertussis is similar to a common cold, i.e. runny nose, slight fever (102F or higher) and in some cases diarrhoea, which develop within seven days after the initial exposure to the bacterium. Within ten to twelve days of exposure, begins severe episodes of coughing, which can lead to vomiting and even temporary loss of consciousness as a result of the excessive coughing. Close observations should be kept on babies and young children as they can easily choke on their vomit.

Anyone is susceptible to catch Pertussis, however before the development of the vaccine many babies and young children fell victim to the disease which at best can cause permanent disability and at worst death. The older the child the a greater chance of survival.

The symptoms are treated with antibiotics to eliminate the bacterium, copious amounts of fluids to combat dehydration, sedatives to aid restful sleep and cough mixture, (expectorant as opposed to suppressant) to help liquefy the mucus so that it becomes easier to cough up.

There are some risks of complication such as pneumonia, convulsions and seizures which can be permanent, nose bleeds, ear infection, brain damage due to lack of oxygen, mental retardation, apnoea (slow or stop breathing) and even death.

Prevention as we know is better than cure. The DTaP vaccination which has been developed specifically for the prevention of Pertussis. Throughout its history there has not been any reported adverse reaction. The recommended course is to spread the five vaccine over a period of eleven or twelve years starting with the first one age 2 months. The remaining four should be given at four month, six month, fifteen or eighteen months with the final one given at eleven or twelve years old. A booster is recommended every ten years thereafter, until the age of 65 has been attained.

Although Pertussis is now a well controlled disease, from time-to-time outbreaks still occur. In 2008 13,000 cases were reported in the US which resulted in 18 deaths. The most recent outbreak occurred in California this year (2010) where 3182 cases were reported, 8 of whom died from the disease.