Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough

What it is? How to get better?

Also called pertussis, whooping cough is a contagious bacterial infection of the airways and lungs.

The infection, caused by bacterium Bordetella Pertuss, usually begins with a persistent dry cough; later on it progresses to severe episodes of coughing. The heavy intake of oxygen after a serious hacking cough sounds like a whoop. That’s the reason the condition is called whooping cough.

Other symptoms may include raised temperature, runny rose and vomiting after coughing. The cough may last for about three months. Before the vaccine for the infection was developed, the infection was considered a childhood disease.  Later on, it was discovered that whooping cough can affect infants, teenagers and adults with a weakened immune system.


It takes about 7-10 days for signs and symptoms to appear, even though in some cases it can take even longer. Initially, the symptoms are mild and resemble those of a common cold. Some of the most common symptoms of the infection include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Cough

The symptoms worsen after about a week or two. Heavy coughing attacks may cause fatigue and incite vomiting. Nevertheless, in most cases, the symptoms of characteristic whoop may not appear. Often, a persistent cough is the only symptom or sign that an adult is infected. Infants may not exhibit any symptoms of coughing. They may struggle hard to breathe or may even stop breathing in some cases.

When Is the Right Time to See a Health Care Professional

It is recommended to see a health care professional when prolonged coughing episodes cause your child to vomit, inhale with a whooping sound or seem to be struggling to breathe. Your health care professional may ask you a few questions about the symptoms to diagnose the condition. The infection can be severe in young babies and in some cases, it is important that the disease is diagnosed and treated immediately.

The Cause of the Infection

A bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes the infection, affecting mainly the lining of the airways, trachea and lungs. As soon as the bacterium gets in contact with your airways, it may lead to:

  • A build-up of thick mucus that causes intense spells of coughing;
  • Inflammation of airways which makes breathing difficult thereby causing the whoop sound as the infected person tries to gasp for breath.

It takes 6 days to about three weeks for an individual to develop the symptoms of whooping cough. The infection is contagious and can be passed from one individual to another. Whooping cough is most commonly infected by sneezing and coughing

The Treatment

If the infection is diagnosed during the first 3 weeks of contracting the infection, you may be prescribed a course of antibiotics. This is done to prevent the infection from being passed on to others. It is vital to take the right steps to avoid the infection from spreading. If a member of the family suffers from the infection, other household members may also be given antibiotics and/or a vaccine shot. Your health care professional may not prescribe antibiotics if whooping cough is diagnosed in advanced stages of infection.

Infants suffering from the infection may be admitted to hospital as they are at risk of severe complications, such as serious breathing difficulties. The treatment may be performed in isolation to prevent the disease from spreading further.

The Vaccine

In the United Kingdom, all pregnant women are vaccinated against whooping cough when they’re twenty eight to thirty eight weeks pregnant. Vaccination during the early days of pregnancy may protect your baby from developing whooping cough.

Children are usually vaccinated at 2, 3 or 4 months of age before they are admitted to a school at the age of about three years and four months. Even though the number of cases of whooping cough has reduced since the vaccination has been introduced, it is still possible for children to contract infection.

The likelihood of the infection spreading from one person to another is reduced if more people are vaccinated against the disease. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the vaccine may fade over time, making it possible to develop the condition during adulthood, even if the vaccination was done during childhood.

Who Is at Risk?

The cases of whooping cough in children have dropped down substantially after the introduction of vaccine.  In cases where adults contract the infection, the symptoms tend to be less serious, even though the persistent cough can be irritating and annoying.

Risk Factors

The cases of infection are thought to be on the rise primarily for two reasons.

  • The effectiveness of vaccine given during childhood eventually wears off which makes adults and teenagers susceptible to infection during an outbreak;
  • Furthermore, children are susceptible to whooping cough until they have received at least three shots. Infants under 6 months of age or younger are at greatest risk of contracting the infection.

In most cases babies catch the infection from their older siblings – often before they are old enough to be fully vaccinated.


In most cases, adults and teens recover from the condition with no complications. However, when complications occur, they are commonly the side effects of the heavy coughing such as:

  • Hernia of the abdomen
  • Broken ribs
  • Damaged blood vessels

Infants that are under 6 months of age may contract serious complications including:

  • Brain damage
  • Weight loss or dehydration
  • Pneumonia
  • Slow breathing

Because they are at greatest risk of complications, they are more likely to receive treatment in a hospital. The complications can be deadly for babies that are younger than 6 months.

Preparing for an Appointment

You may want to write down a list that includes:

  • Detailed explanation of the symptoms and signs
  • Previous medical history
  • Date of vaccination
  • Medical history of siblings or parents

The best way to protect your baby from whooping cough is to get them vaccinated when they are 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months old.

© Teresa Boardman, Nanny Options.

Browse other Parenting Guide articles from Nanny Options
or keep up to date with us on Facebook.



Related Categories

Gift Vouchers

Gift Voucher Present
Gift Vouchers now available for all our services.

Members of NRF

Members of NRF

Other Parenting Guide Topics

Parenting Classes

Parents are eager to learn more about the range of baby products available.


A range of topics from food advice and sleeping to Signs of labour and giving birth. 


A collection of articles to support you and help you understand your newborn better.