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Whooping Cough Outbreak Is On the Rise Nationally: Your Parents Could Be At Risk

Whooping cough (Pertussis) is not just a childhood disease. Pertussis mainly affects infants, un-immunized children and elderly adults. Complications include pneumonia, ear infection, vomiting and dehydration if left untreated.

Whooping cough may not be diagnosed in adults because the typical signs, especially the "whoop" part of the cough, maybe not be present. A whooping cough epidemic is already underway. In California 4,400 cases of the highly contagious illness have been reported. The Centers for Disease and Prevention and Control reports 11,466 cases nationwide.

What It Is And How It’s Transmitted

Whooping cough is a respiratory infection caused by the bordetella pertussis bacterium. It is an airborne disease that can be spread through direct contact or through inhaling it in the air—someone sneezes and the germs are sprayed into the air and you breathe them in.

Studies show that undiagnosed family members are the most likely to infect infants with whooping cough. Infants (6 months old and younger) are the most vulnerable to this disease and they are too young to be immunized.

Whooping Cough Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, once you become infected with whooping cough it takes three days to two weeks for signs and symptoms to appear:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Mild fever
  • Dry cough

After a week or two, symptoms worsen. Severe and prolonged coughing attacks may:

  • bring up thick phlegm
  • provoke vomiting
  • cause extreme fatigue
  • end with a high-pitched "whoop" sound

Sometimes people (infants, adolescents and adults) do not develop the characteristic whoop. The cough can simply be persistent and hacking.

How your doctor will diagnose whooping cough:

  • a nose or throat culture test
  • blood tests
  • chest x-ray

How to prevent whooping cough:

  • The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get the vaccine. Elderly adults and caregivers are encouraged to get it. The vaccine does not contain the additive thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that has been the subject of long-running public debate about whether it can cause autism.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze.
  • Wash your hands regularly in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds.

Treatment

If your parent has a persistent cough, runs a low fever, coughs up phlegm or has any of the above symptoms, he or she must be seen by a doctor. Treatment may be with antibiotics to kill the bacteria plus cough medicines.