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Whooping Cough | WiSE Specialist Emergency Clinic
Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough

What is it?

Whooping cough (also known as Pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory infection of the lungs and airways. In adolescents and adults, the infection may only cause a persistent cough. However in babies and young children the condition can be potentially life threatening. It is important to seek medical care for babies as they are at risk of greatest harm due to their soft airways that are vulnerable to damage from severe coughing bouts.

How is whooping cough spread?

Whooping cough can be easily spread by air droplets through coughing and sneezing. Ensuring good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently and cleaning door knobs or other high traffic surfaces can help prevent the spread of bacteria. As whooping cough is highly contagious, other family members or close contacts of the child with whooping cough can also get the infection. Your GP can advise if antibiotics are necessary especially in women in their last month of pregnancy and in babies less than 6 months old.

Signs and symptoms

Whooping cough may begin with symptoms similar to that of a cold, such as a runny nose and dry cough which may last for about 1 week. This can rapidly progress to include:

  • The characteristic cough, which is often followed by a ‘whooping’ sound on inhalation
  • A severe cough occurring in bouts
  • Vomiting at the end of a bout of coughing
  • Apnoea – the child may stop breathing for periods of time and can go blue

What does treatment involve?

  • In the early stages, symptoms of whooping cough can be reduced by taking antibiotics. This reduces the amount of time your child is infectious.
  • Even if your child is taking antibiotics, their cough will continue for many weeks
  • If treatment is given in the first 21 days of the illness, the risk of passing the infection might be reduced

Care at home

  • Avoid exposure to smoke at home or around your child
  • Give your child small, frequent meals and fluids often (such as sips of water or smaller feeds)

When to take your child to the Emergency Department

  • If the patient stops breathing, call 000 and begin CPR
  • If the patient turns blue during a coughing spell – check fingertips and around mouth
  • If the patient is vomiting often, or becomes dehydrated (insert link to dehydration blog post)
  • If you have parental concerns

What to expect in the Emergency Department

Your Emergency Specialist will ask questions about you or your child’s symptoms and will perform a physical examination. They may take samples of the cough secretions and have them analysed in our pathology lab.