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Whooping cough

What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is rare in the UK since the introduction of the vaccination programme in the 1950s and the pre-school booster in 2001. There's an incubation period of one to three weeks before symptoms appear after contact with the bacteria that causes whooping cough.

What is Whooping cough

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the airways and windpipe, and is also known as pertussis. It's caught by inhaling droplets of airborne saliva from other infected people's coughs and sneezes.

Whooping cough is rare in the UK since the introduction of the vaccination programme in the 1950s and the pre-school booster in 2001.

Whooping cough, when it does occur, is commonest amongst young children, although it's not unheard of in adults. In rare cases, it can be fatal, which is why it's so important that as many people as possible take up the childhood immunisation programme. It's estimated that at least 95% of the population needs to be immunised in order to eradicate whooping cough and other serious illnesses.

What are the symptoms of Whooping cough?

There's an incubation period of one to three weeks before symptoms appear after contact with the bacteria that causes whooping cough.

The condition is characterised by a cough that is followed by a very distinctive 'whoop' as the sufferer draws breath. Young babies and children might gag or gasp, and turn a bit blue in the face instead of whooping, but it looks worse than it is, and they will recover their breath quickly. These symptoms follow a week or so after the earliest cold-like symptoms of a runny nose, sneezing, dry cough and fever (temperature of 38 degrees C or above) have already emerged.

Along with the 'whooping' or gagging sound, other symptoms that follow the cold-like symptoms include intense, paroxysmal coughing, sometimes accompanied by vomiting; the production of thick phlegm; and exhaustion from the effort of coughing. These can last upwards of two weeks and continue even after treatment has cleared the bacteria from the body.

What are the treatments and remedies of Whooping cough?

Babies under a year old with whooping cough are usually admitted to hospital because of the risk of complications. Older children and adults usually respond to antibiotic treatment, although in severe cases corticosteroid medication may also be given.

Other self-help measures include taking paracetamol or ibuprofen; clearing phlegm from the chest as much as possible; drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest.

Full recovery can take three months or more. 

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net

 

Whooping cough