Recognizing and Treating Whooping Cough
Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The pertussis germ is spread through secretions from sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. Whooping cough is extremely contagious -- if one person in the home has the bacteria, up to 90% of the household members who are not vaccinated will catch it too.
Early symptoms are indistinguishable from those of the common cold. After a week or so, a cough develops that may become severe and last for several weeks. A gasp for air after a coughing fit can produce the telltale "whoop." This is more common in children than adults.
However, in the 80% to 90% of Americans who were immunized as children, whooping cough is milder and doesn’t necessarily follow the classic pattern. Cold symptoms may be mild or absent. The cough may be severe -- or just annoying. People with mild symptoms may spread the whooping cough without ever knowing that they have the infection.
Doctors can test for whooping cough with a simple nasal-swab test. Antibiotics may reduce symptoms and prevent spread, especially if given during the first few weeks of the cough.