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Whooping cough


Whooping cough is a respiratory disease caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis or Bordet bacillus and Gengou. Pertussis cases have become rare in France, due to vaccination campaigns. Pertussis is a very dangerous disease for unvaccinated infants, but can also affect adults whose immunizations are not up to date. It is a highly infectious disease, with contamination occuring only between human beings.


The incubation period (the period between the time of infection and the onset of symptoms) lasts 10 days. The first symptoms are similar to those of a common cold: rhinitis, dry cough especially at night, mild fever. After ten days of this so-called catarrhal stage, the disease enters its critical phase, with the onset of coughing that gradually increases in intensity and frequency. The progression of the disease is usually typical in pattern: period of unrest and deep breathing followed by a bout of coughing of up 20 times in a row, with a child giving the impression of choking and large noisy breathing a "whoop" (hence the name whooping cough). This sequence repeats itself many times.


The diagnosis is made following the description by parents of the episodes of coughing as well as the context: the absence of vaccination, and the contact in the previous month with another person suspected of having pertussis. After a physical examination, a blood test looking for an increase in lymphocytes is an element that confirms the diagnosis. Sometimes, sputum samples are taken or a search by gene amplification or PCR may be performed.


In infants of less than 6 months of age, the disease can cause respiratory distress and be fatal. Hospitalization is recommended with isolation and a heavy antibiotic treatment to prevent contagion. In other cases, treatment involves the establishment of a course of oral antibiotics. An update in vaccinations is also necessary. The vaccination status of surrounding patients should also be checked and in case of doubt, an antibiotic treatment is recommended.


Prevention is assured through the vaccination of infants. An immunization schedule was introduced in France in order to prevent such diseases. The pertussis vaccine is given at 2, 3 and 4 months and reminders are usually at 18 months, then at 11-12 years.

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