Pertussis, or whooping cough, has made a dramatic resurgence in the past several years. Large outbreaks of whooping cough symptoms have occurred in multiple states. Infant deaths have drawn the attention of not only healthcare providers, but also the media.
Although antibiotics are the standard conventional treatment for whooping cough, there are natural remedies for coughs and bacterial infections that will help you to fight this serious condition and reduce the duration of symptoms.
What Is Whooping Cough?
Whooping cough is a very contagious respiratory disease. It’s is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is characterized as a severe hacking cough that’s followed by a whooping, high-pitched sound that occurs when a person is struggling to take a breath. Whooping cough passes from person to person by close contact with bacteria-filled droplets sprayed into the air. Most deaths due to whooping cough occur among babies younger than 3 months old.
Despite effective antibiotic treatments and universal vaccination strategies started long ago, whooping cough is still a dangerous disease. It’s dangerous even in developed countries. Around 16 million cases of whooping cough occur worldwide each year, mostly in low-income countries.
In 2015, there were 20,762 cases of whooping cough in the United States (down from over 32,000 cases in 2014 and over 48,000 cases in 2012), and 6 deaths. Death from whooping cough in children and adults is due to the effects of the sudden and violent coughing. Recent outbreaks of whooping cough highlight the danger of pertussis in adults and the risk of spreading it to at-risk infants who are most susceptible to complications, including death.
People with whooping cough symptoms are contagious after 5 days of antimicrobial treatment (like an antibiotic) or 21 days after the onset of cough when you don’t take medication. One of the greatest fears of developing whooping cough is passing the infection to a young child or infant, which can have deadly consequences.
Common Whooping Cough Symptoms
Symptoms of whooping cough usually develop within 5 to 10 days after exposure. Sometimes it can take as long as three weeks. Patients with whooping cough may experience severe coughing bouts. These are usually accompanied by whooping, the sound made when taking a deep breath in after coughing, and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration, difficulty breathing and being admitted to the hospital.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, there are three stages of whooping cough symptoms:
Catarrhal — After the incubation period of 5 to 10 days, on average, whooping cough symptoms begin to develop. Catarrhal symptoms include inflammation of the mucous membranes in one of the airways. This stage usually lasts for 7 to 10 days. Characteristics include: inflammation of mucous membranes, low-grade fever and mild, occasional cough that gradually becomes more severe.
Paroxysmal — The cough usually starts like other respiratory tract infections, but then becomes paroxysmal, meaning intense and sudden. Paroxysms of cough may occur more at night. They usually increase in frequency and severity as the illness progresses, typically persisting for 2 to 6 weeks, but can be for up to 10 weeks. The coughs become so rapid because it’s difficult to expel the thick mucus from the lungs. These coughs usually end with a high-pitched “whoop” at the end and may also lead to vomiting and exhaustion. On average, coughing attacks happen 15 times per 24 hours, increasing in frequency during the first 1 to 2 weeks, remaining the same frequency for 2 to 3 weeks and then gradually decreasing.
Convalescent — The convalescent stage usually lasts for 7 to 10 days. It’s characterized by gradual recovery, less persistent coughing attacks that disappear in 2 to 3 weeks.
Many children under 6 months of age do not develop paroxysmal cough or the characteristic “whoop.” Infants often have a long and complicated course of recurrent episodes involving apnea (shallow breath or pauses in breathing), cyanosis (turning blue due to a lack of oxygen) and bradycardia (slow heart rate).
Death from whooping cough occurs most in small children. Almost 90 percent of reported deaths occur in unvaccinated infants less than 1 year old. Researchers found that high levels of leukocytosis, an increase in the number of white cells in the blood, may predict a fatal outcome in children admitted to the hospital.
Causes and Risk Factors
A bacterium called Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the bacteria-filled droplets spray into the air. Then they are breathed into the lungs of anyone nearby.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated infants younger than 12 months of age have the highest risk for severe and life-threatening complications and death. The illness is generally less severe in adolescents and adults. The typical “whoop” is less common among these age groups.
However, there is an increase in the frequency of whooping cough because of waning immunity among vaccinated individuals who become susceptible during adolescence and adulthood and maintain the circulation of B. pertussis bacteria. Getting the primary infection or the primary immunization does not mean permanent immunity.