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Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough can be a life threatening infection for babies. It is very serious for babies who can have pneumonia, seizures, brain damamge and, in some cases, death. Older children & adults can get whooping cough and pass it on.

What are the symptoms?

It begins like a cold with a mild fever and a cough. The cough gets worse and sever bouts begin to develop followed by vomiting, choking or taking a big gasping breath which causes the 'whoopinh' sound. It can last for many weeks and can be worse at night.

How it is spread?

Whooping cough is spread by coughing bacteria into the air. If not treated early, people with whooping cough are infectious in the first three weeks of their illness.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can get whooping cough. People living in the same household as someone with whooping cough are especially at risk. Immunisation reduces the risk of infection but immunity fades over time. You can still get whooping cough even if you've been immunised.

How is it prevented?

Whooping cough vaccines provide good protection from infection but immunity fades which means that boosters are needed. Babies need to be immunised at 2, 4 and 6 months. A booster is needed at 4 years. A second booster is given in high school.

A booster for adults is recommended for both parents planning a pregnancy, or just after the baby is born and for anyone (eg grandchildren) caring for infants under 12 months of age.

If you have been exposed to someone with whooping cough early in their illness while they are infectious, watch out for symptoms and see your doctor if you get a new cough. Some babies and some pregnant women need antibiotics to prevent whooping cough infection if they have had significant contact with an infectious person.

How is whooping cough diagnosed?

A swab from the back of the nose or throat or a blood test can confirm the diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Some babies may need treatment in hospital or intensive care. Antibiotics are used to treat it in early stages and 5 days worth can help prevent spread. People who are not treated early with the right antibiotics can spread the infection in the first 3 weeks. The cough often continues for many weeks, despite antibiotics.

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