Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is an acute infectious disease caused by bacteria called Bordetella Pertussis. If you have ever seen a child with pertussis you won’t forget it. The child coughs violently and rapidly, over and over, until the air is gone from her lungs and the child is forced to inhale with the loud “whooping” sound that gives the disease its nickname, whooping cough.
It is spread from person to person through personal contact, coughing and sneezing.
The incubation period of Pertussis is commonly 7–10 days, with a range of 4–21 days, and rarely may be as long as 42 days. At first Pertussis resembles a common cold, with sneezing, running nose, fever and a mild cough. But after 1 or 2 weeks the severe coughing spells begin. During such an attack, the patient may become cyanotic (turn blue). Children and young infants, especially, appear very ill and distressed. Vomiting and exhaustion commonly follow the episode. The person does not appear to be ill between attacks. Paroxysmal attacks occur more frequently at night, with an average of 15 attacks per 24 hours. During the first 1 or 2 weeks of this stage, the attacks increase in frequency, remain at the same level for 2 to 3 weeks, and then gradually decrease.
Pertussis is most severe in infants less than 1 year old. More than half of these infants who get the disease must be hospitalized. Older children and adults can get pertussis too, but it is usually not as serious. Many infants who get pertussis catch it from their older brothers and sisters, or from their parents who might not even know they have the disease. Immunity following B. Pertussisinfection does not appear to be permanent, therefore immunization is must.
About 1 child in 10 who get pertussis also gets pneumonia, and about 1 in 50 will have convulsions. The brain is affected in about 1 person out of 250 (this is called encephalopathy). Adolescents and adults may also develop complications of Pertussis, such as difficulty sleeping, urinary incontinence, pneumonia, and rib fracture.