16 Deadly Facts About Whooping Cough In Babies

There is nothing quite as upsetting as when the baby gets seriously sick. Infants are so susceptible to colds that go around each season as their tiny bodies, and brand new immune systems, struggle to get used to the big world in which they only recently arrived. And when it comes to whooping cough, this is one infection that doesn't mess around.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a serious bacterial infection that can be fatal, especially for those who have comprised or immature immune systems, like the elderly, those with serious health conditions, and young children and infants. Though it is one of several childhood diseases that have been mostly brought under control in modern populations due to widely available vaccines, whooping cough has made a comeback in recent years, largely due to a small percentage of families who choose not to vaccinate.

Whooping cough is a serious illness, and if you suspect the child may have been infected with the bacteria, you should visit the doctor as soon as possible. In order to protect our babies from being needlessly exposed to whooping cough and other preventable childhood illness, making sure you and your family are up-to-date on all publicly available vaccinations will go a long way to make sure no family has to unnecessarily suffer through a young child's illness.

16 It's Highly Contagious

Whooping cough is hard to control once somebody in your community has it, because it is so easy for the bacteria to spread. The infection can be passed through mucous and saliva, which means that any person with the illness who coughs or sneezes can spread the bacteria on every surface and person they encounter. Unless you already have immunity to the bacteria through a previous infection, or more likely through being vaccinated, you and your baby can be susceptible to the infection.

Other good hygiene measures, like washing your hands regularly, is the only other way to prevent the spread of this and other harmful germs. Whenever possible, anyone who has a cold or cough should avoid your baby until their symptoms clear up. While there is no surefire way to prevent the spread of the bacteria, these measures are good habits to reduce your risk of coming in contact with bacteria and viruses.

15 Bacteria Has Mutated

One the unfortunate trends we see in medicine through the overuse of antibiotics is the rise in mutations in bacteria and viruses as the organisms learn and adapt in order to survive the drugs designed to stop them. In a recent study in the US, scientist found that 85% of the pertussis bacteria they studied didn't contain a major protein that most vaccines target, making the vaccine much less effective at preventing you from developing whooping cough.

This means that new, mutated strains of the bacteria is now circulating in the population. In fact, half the whooping cough cases they studied where people who had been vaccinated, but got sick anyway. The issue of mutating bacteria and viruses are a massive issue for vaccine developers, who need to regularly adapt modern vaccines to target the most common and widespread strains of diseases.

14 Epidemics Are On The Rise

With bacteria and virus changing to adapt their environment, and growing numbers of families choosing not to vaccinate their children, outbreaks of whooping cough are appearing regularly in the United States. In 1976, a good 30 years after the whooping cough vaccine had been widely in use, there were only 1000 documented cases of whooping cough in the country according to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

Just recently in 2014, in California alone, there were more than 10 000 cases reported in that state. Most of these cases were in children, and the pattern suggests that the effective duration of the vaccines may need attention. In the meantime, this means there are more and more people who are getting the infection, which makes it more likely you and your baby may be exposed with someone who is sick.

13 Highest Death Rate Is For Infants

While whooping cough is dangerous at any age, the sad fact is that babies and small children account for the majority of serious complications and death due to a pertussis infection. Their new and small bodies simply aren't prepared to fight an infection that is so ravaging of their immune and respiratory systems. This situation is further aggravated by the fact that safe vaccination schedules only allow for all three pertussis vaccines to be administered and fully effective until six months of age. Prior to six months, babies are at a particular risk of developing life-threatening infections, and any sign of illness, including fever or breathing difficulties, should be brought to the attention of a doctor as soon as possible. Early intervention and prompt medical attention is essential in these kinds of serious diseases, and can help prevent your young child from becoming a statistic.

12 Symptoms Resemble The Common Cold

The onset of whooping cough will start about 7-10 after you come into contact with the bacteria, sometimes even longer. After that, whooping cough begins and unfortunately looks and sounds like any other common cold. Babies will most likely experience regular symptoms like runny nose, congestion, fever, and watery eyes before the real cough begins. Because the infection may seem mild, not all parents will look to a doctor for regular cold symptoms. When it comes to newborns, any sign of an infection should be observed carefully. Any baby under the age of three months who displays a temperature above 100 F, or a baby three to six months of age who has a fever of 101 F, should visit a doctor regardless of the severity of their symptoms, and an early visit to the doctor's office could help prevent the infection progressing and becoming more dangerous for the baby.

11 Telltale Cough Comes Late Into The Infection

After about two weeks into the infection, the signature cough with the "whoop" sound may appear. At this point, your babies lungs are already inflamed and filling with mucous, and the whooping cough you might hear is their narrowed airways trying to bring in as much air as possible. The sound is distinct, but if you need an example of what it sounds like, you can hear examples of true whooping cough here.

The sound is likely to tip off a doctor almost immediately, but at this point the infection has already progressed. If you haven’t already visited a doctor by the time your baby has developed the signature cough, you should seek out medical attention as soon as possible. Even without the presence of the distinct cough, or even if you simply aren't sure, a serious cough, or any sign of breathing distress, are reasons for concern.

10 Coughing Fits Are Uncontrollable

Unlike the mild cough during a cold, or the dry tickling cough when something gets sticks in your throat, whooping cough fits are violent and uncontrollable. A true fit can last as long as a minute straight, though while you watch your baby cough and struggle to catch their breath, that minute can seem like an eternity. Depending on how severe the infection is, children can throw up during the worst of the coughing, or start to turn purple or blue during a fit if they aren't getting enough oxygen. If any of these symptoms happen and your baby isn't already being treated for the disease, then you should get them to a hospital as soon as possible. A whooping cough is not a normal cough, and ignoring the signs can lead to a serious and long-term infection and can take your baby months to recover from.

9 The Coughing Can Last Months

There's a reason that Pertussis is also known as the 100 day cough. Most coughs and colds usually lasts from 7-10 days, and most colds or flu causing a cough should see improvement within two weeks. Whooping cough can last for up to three months, and children who suffer particularly bad bouts of the disease can spend months or more completely recovering from the disease. This is due to the paralyzing effect that pertussis has on the lungs.

The bacteria that causes whooping cough, bordetella pertussis, sticks the internal lining where it creates a toxin that essentially paralyzes the cilia. Cilia are tiny hairlike structures that, in healthy lungs, move in waves and work to clear mucous from the airways through regular coughing. Pertussis is not a regular cough, and with parts of the lungs paralyzed, the lungs cannot clear away the mucous, leaving whooping cough sufferers with months of recovery as their cilia recover over time.

8 Some Babies Never Get The "Whoop"

Young infants, who are most at risk of serious infection, may not develop that characteristic "whoop" that signals the development of this dangerous illness. Infants have tiny lungs and tiny diaphragms, and while their lungs and airways can become inflamed just like an adults, they may not have the energy and muscular power that produces those big coughs, and therefore won't produce the same sounds. Instead, young babies may just struggle to breath, or stop breathing altogether, which is signal enough to bring your baby to the emergency room.

The absence of the "whoop" doesn't mean your baby has a run-of-the-mill cold, and don't be afraid to be persistent with your doctor if you child shows any sign of breathing difficulty. You are your baby's best advocate in time of stress and illness, so go with your gut and don't be afraid to persist if you feel your baby is seriously sick.

7 Vaccines And Boosters Are The Only Real Defense

Anyone can catch whooping cough, and the only real defence against the bacteria that causes it is to be up to date on your vaccine schedule. Babies should be fully vaccinated against Pertussis by the time they are six months, having had three vaccinations in that time frame. After six months, children get booster shots when they are 18 months old, and again when they are 4-6 years of age.

Whooping cough is so dangerous to babies that adults are encourage to get boosters as well in order to prevent spreading the disease to young children, and soon-to-be mothers are recommend to get another booster during their third trimester. The only way to prevent babies from contracting the bacteria is for the children and adults that come into their life are up to date with the vaccinations in order to develop the herd immunity that best protects those most vulnerable in our communities.

6 Vaccine Not Totally Effective Until Six Months Of Age

That herd immunity, as well as the maternal immunity that new mothers provide, is all that exists to provide the newest babies form whooping cough. As safe vaccine schedules only allow all the initial pertussis vaccines to be administered until six months of age, newborns are the most at risk of developing a serious case of whooping cough.

Mothers do pass on some immunity through their own vaccinations and antibodies, so making sure you are up to date on your vaccinations, including a pertussis booster in your last trimester if required, can go a long way to provide your baby with some immunity until they get all their vaccines. Herd immunity, which is when a majority of of the population is immune to the disease, prevents the spread of a bacteria, so that outbreaks are less likely. This is only possible when everyone is up to date with their vaccination schedule, and those who choose not to vaccinate threaten herd immunity and put people at risk of contracting this preventable illness.

5 Severe Complications

With infants being the most vulnerable to whooping cough infections, they are also the most likely to experience complications from the disease. Complications can vary depending on the severity of the infection, but can include things like pneumonia, dehydration, seizures, slowed or stopped breathing and brain damage. Of course, the most dangerous complication is that the disease can be life-threatening for those under six months of age - this illness does not mess around. There is no way of knowing how severe an infection any person may contract, but when it comes to babies you are always better to be safe than sorry. Serious signs to look out for include if your young infant has a fever, is not eating or drinking, or is having difficulty breathing. Any of these symptoms should be brought to the attention of a doctor immediately.

4 Hospitalization Often Required

The last thing any parent in the world wants is for their baby to get sick enough to require hospitalization. However, if your baby contracts whooping cough, chances are that your child will require a hospital stay. The disease is just so rough on a little baby's body, and the treatments needed usually require the expertise of a doctor to administer, as well as specialized drugs to help stop the infection.

Hospital visits are never fun with infants, even if you are lucky enough to full health coverage. Not to mention that any visit to the hospital has the potential of exposing you to more illness, which is the last thing you need when you're taking care of a sick baby. Nevertheless, the risks involved in not visiting a hospital are much greater, so if you or your doctor suspect any sort if serious chest infection, or any real fever (100F or more) for an infant under the age of six months, your best bet is to visit your nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

3 Tests Required For Diagnosis

There are several tests used to diagnose whooping cough, though any doctor that suspects whooping cough will most likely treat your child before results come in order to start fighting the infection as soon as possible. Still, testing for whooping cough is important, as accurate records on where whooping cough epidemics are happening are vital to doctors and epidemiologists to understand how quickly this bacteria spreads, and therefore provide the public with information on whether there is a concern of whooping cough in their area.

Tests can vary, but whooping cough can be detected through throat swabs/cultures, blood tests and chest x-rays. The nose and throats cultures are the only test that look for the pertussis bacteria specifically, though all three help doctors understand how sick your baby is and how to best treat them. Even if you child starts receiving treatment, if you suspect whooping cough you should insist on your child being tested for the bacteria.

2 Antibiotics Needed Intravenously

For young babies with serious whooping cough infections, intravenous antibiotics will most likely be needed during a hospital stay. Young babies aren’t able to take oral antibiotics that can be used at home, but the severity of the infection typical in young children means if your baby contracts whooping cough, they will most likely be treated with antibiotics in hospital.

During this time, your baby will monitored closely by nurses and doctors to make sure that the antibiotics are working, and that their breathing slowly begins to improve. Newborns rarely have reaction to antibiotics in hospital, but doctors will also monitor for any allergic reactions to make sure your baby doesn’t get sicker than they already are. It may be hard to see a baby having to go through IV treatments, but it is important they are treated as soon as possible to give them the best possible outcome.

1 Quarantine

If someone in your family develops whooping cough, you and your family, or anyone who is in regular contact with the person (baby or adult) will most likely be asked to quarantine themselves to prevent spreading the disease in your community. A whooping cough infection is very contagious, and while high vaccination rates in the general population help to provide widespread immunity, there will always be some people that are more susceptible to infection, like other newborns who don’t have their full vaccinations yet, or people with compromised immune systems from other serious illnesses or conditions.

Quarantining yourself may feel like a huge inconvenience, but preventing the spread of this deadly infection could help prevent the illness of another person, or worse, another baby in your community. Safe is always better than sorry, especially when we're talking about the most vulnerable people in our neighbourhoods, including our babies.

Sources: BabyCenter.ca, KidsHealth.org, EverydayHealth.com, MayoClinic.org 


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