One of the most heartbreaking things to witness is a tiny baby wracked with whooping cough. Watching their fragile little bodies struggle for air is truly horrific, and certainly brings home how important it is to be vigilant with vaccinations and taking proper precautions to ensure that this awful infection is not spread.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough, or pertussis as it is medically known, is an infection that causes severe cough and is easily spread from person to person. Whooping cough gets its name from the “whoop” sound people make when they breathe in after a coughing attack. Generally, most people get childhood vaccinations to prevent whooping cough. It is recommended by doctors that babies and young children get five doses of the vaccine, and pregnant women should get one dose during each pregnancy. It is extremely important that adults who are around newborn babies get the vaccine, as babies are particularly at risk to whooping cough before they get all of their vaccine doses.

Whooping cough symptoms

Early whooping cough symptoms include
• Sneezing
• Runny or stuffy nose
• General cold symptoms
• Mild cough

After 1-2 weeks
• Worsening cough, with severe coughing attacks
• Gagging, choking, or breathing trouble during coughing attacks
• Vomiting during coughing attacks

If you, or your child has whooping cough and experiences the following
• High fever
• Vomiting constantly
• Dehydration
Seek medical assistance immediately, and notify any medical workers that you or your child has whooping cough so they can avoid further infection.

After 2-6 weeks
• Gradual resolution of cough, though this can take months to go away completely

How is whooping cough treated?

Whooping cough is usually treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. The medications used to treat whooping cough vary depending on a person’s age, and persons living with those infected by whooping cough may also need treatment, even if they are not sick, to prevent further infection. Your doctor may refer you for further testing which may include mucus samples, blood tests, or a chest x-ray.
Babies who are younger than four months MUST be treated in hospital. Babies are extremely susceptible to whooping cough, and the infection can be deadly. In hospital, babies can be closely monitored by doctors and given oxygen, fluids, and nutrition as required.
People with whooping cough are encouraged to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat small meals to avoid vomiting after coughing, in addition to medical treatment.

How can I prevent the spread of whooping cough?

• Cover your, or encourage your child to cover their mouth when you cough, or wear a mask
• Wash your hands often
• Avoid all contact with babies and young children until you have been on antibiotics for five days, or on your doctor’s advice
• Make sure other people in your home get the whooping cough vaccine, if they haven’t already had it
• If your child has whooping cough make sure their carers/teachers get the whooping cough vaccine if they haven’t already had it
• Do not let your child return to school/day care/kindergarten until they are given the okay by a doctor

The current recommendations are that pregnant women be vaccinated during each pregnancy, from 28 weeks onwards. The closer to the 28 weeks mark, the greater the immune response and therefore protection across the placenta to the baby.