A highly contagious infectious disease, also called whooping cough, which mainly affects infants and young children. The main features of the illness are bouts of coughing, often ending in a characteristic “whoop”. The main cause is infection with bacteria, which are spread in airborne droplets. After an incubation period of 7–10 days, the illness starts with a mild cough, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, and sore eyes. After a few days, the cough becomes more persistent and severe, especially at night. Whooping occurs in most cases. Sometimes the cough can cause vomiting. In infants, there is a risk of temporary apnoea following a coughing spasm. The illness may last for a few weeks. The possible complications include nosebleeds, dehydration, pneumonia, pneumothorax, bronchiectasis (permanent widening of the airways), and convulsions. Untreated, pertussis may prove fatal. Pertussis is usually diagnosed from the symptoms. In the early stages, erythromycin is often given to reduce the child’s infectivity. Treatment consists of keeping the child warm, giving small, frequent meals and plenty to drink, and protecting him or her from stimuli, such as smoke, that can provoke coughing. If the child becomes blue or persistently vomits after coughing, hospital admission is needed. In developed countries, most infants are vaccinated against pertussis in the 1st year of life. It is usually given as part of the DPT vaccination at 2, 3, and 4 months of age. Possible complications include a mild fever and fretfulness. Very rarely, an infant may have a severe reaction, with high-pitched screaming or seizures.


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