What Is Pertussis?

Posted on August 4, 2021

Pertussis was thought to have been eradicated in several countries until recently when outbreaks were seen around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and even Australia.

This increase in outbreaks means that you need to be prepared for the chance of getting the disease and passing it on to other people. The disease is very contagious and requires medical attention to get through it. 

Continue reading to learn everything that you need to know about Pertussis. 

Pertussis Disease Explained

Pertussis is a respiratory disease that affects the lungs caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria. The disease causes serious, uncontrollable coughing fits that can become violent making it difficult to breathe. In some cases, it may cause coughing so strong that it induces vomiting. Because of its high-pitched noise, it's also known as whooping cough. 

The pertussis bacteria line the upper respiratory system along the cilia. The bacteria emits toxins that cause damage to the cilia and swelling in the airways making it nearly impossible to get a lungful of air. 

The disease is extremely contagious and can affect anyone. It's so bad that in nearly half of child pertussis cases, the child has to be hospitalized for treatment. Pertussis can be deadly for children less than a year old.

Pertussis spreads through close contact with an infected individual's coughs, sneezes, and breath droplets. It can also get spread by touching your nose and mouth after touching an infected surface. Many babies get the bacteria from family members and caregivers who didn't even know that they were carrying it. 

Pertussis Symptoms

The symptoms of pertussis start anywhere from five to ten days following exposure. The symptoms last for a week or two on average. The cough can last for several weeks before seeing any improvements. 

Pertussis starts out with cold-like symptoms with a runny nose, low-grade fever, and a mild cough. The coughing gets worse over time. The sporadic coughing becomes more frequent, especially at night. The coughing noise becomes whooping. In this stage, the harsh cough induces vomiting. Exhaustion is inevitable due to the over-exertion.

It is possible to be asymptomatic and still spread the bacteria to someone who does get sick.

Long-Term Effects of Pertussis

Pertussis may return at the onset of another respiratory infection. Pertussis can cause damage to the body.

This damage can lead to:

  • Chronic lung issues
  • Stroke
  • Epilepsy
  • Neurological impairment
  • Vision problems

There are certain complications seen among infants and children who have pertussis:

  • 23% develop Pneumonia
  • 61% have Apnea
  • 1.1% have Convulsions
  • 1% Die
  • 0.3% develop Encephalopathy

Teens and adults with pertussis might deal with:

  • Weight loss (33%)
  • Bladder malfunction (28%)
  • Rib fractures (4%)
  • Passing out (6%)

While these odds are relatively low, it's still possible to have complications with pertussis. If you have pertussis, you can ask your doctor any questions that you might have about possible complications.

Diagnosing Whooping Cough

Seeking medical treatment is essential to recovering from pertussis. Your doctor will search for the signs and symptoms of whooping cough and perform a physical exam. They will also perform a laboratory test via a mucus swab that will check for the bacteria.

Pertussis Treatments

Pertussis is treated with antibiotics. Likely, everyone who comes in contact with the ill individual will also have to take antibiotics to make sure that they don't get sick even if they don't present with symptoms. 

In more severe cases, the individual with the illness will need to be taken to the hospital for admittance. At the hospital, the doctor will be able to monitor breathing and supply oxygen as needed. They may have to suction mucus to aid in breathing and administer fluids to prevent dehydration.

Pertussis Vaccine

The vaccine is the most effective method of prevention. However, no vaccine is 100% effective. There is a chance that you can still get whooping cough even if you do get the vaccine. It's likely that the symptoms will be less severe if you are vaccinated against the illness. 

There are two different vaccines available for pertussis. For children under the age of seven, they will get the DTap (Diptheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) vaccination. For those older than seven years old, the Tdap (Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis) vaccination is available. 

Pregnant women should consider getting the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester to help protect babies from contracting pertussis when they are born. 

What You Can Do

Avoid giving anyone with pertussis an over-the-counter cough suppressant. They don't work. Coughing, though painful, is necessary for phlegm removal. Make sure that you follow the doctor's schedule for administering the antibiotics. Don't miss any doses. 

It's important to push fluids as much as possible to stave off the dehydration synonymous with vomiting. Eating small meals throughout the day can help with the vomiting as well. 

Make sure you wash your hands frequently when handling infants even if you aren't feeling sick. You might be carrying germs that can make babies seriously sick if you touch them.  

Make sure to sanitize any surfaces that get touched by sick individuals to prevent the spreading of illnesses such as pertussis. 

Stay Safe and Healthy

Pertussis is a devastating health problem that can be deadly to young children, especially those less than a year old. Because it is so contagious, you need to take precautions around newborn babies and immunocompromised individuals. Getting the vaccine is a step in the right direction. 

Get a health insurance quote from Insurdinary today to make sure that you are covering all of your bases with your current health insurance policy. 

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