Eight months ago I wrote my 100th blog about a lady who had become a centenarian and how we had celebrated her birthday and since then she has followed my blogs and I have even introduced her to TED talks which she finds most interesting!
The telephone went yesterday to inform me that she was in hospital with what in some countries is known as
the 100 days’ cough or cough of 100 days.
We know it as whooping cough, or Pertussis..It is a highly contagious bacterial disease caused by Bordetella pertussis.
Although, in isolation and distressed by the severe coughing fits, which often produce the namesake high-pitched “whoop” sound when air is inhaled after coughing she has been in good spirits and no doubt full of questions due to her interminable curiosity.
What causes whooping cough
The bacterium infects the lining of the airways, mainly the windpipe (trachea) and the two airways that branch off from it to the lungs (the bronchi).
When the Bordetella pertussis bacterium comes into contact with the lining of these airways, it multiplies and causes a build-up of thick mucus. It is the mucus that causes the intense bouts of coughing as your body tries to expel it.
The bacterium also causes the airways to swell up, making them narrower than usual. As a result, breathing is made difficult, which causes the ‘whoop’ sound as you gasp for breath after a bout of coughing.
How whooping cough spreads
People with whooping cough are infectious from six days after exposure to the bacterium to three weeks after the ‘whooping’ cough begins.
The Bordetella pertussis bacterium is carried in droplets of moisture in the air. When someone with whooping cough sneezes or coughs, they propel hundreds of infected droplets into the air. If the droplets are breathed in by someone else, the bacterium will infect their airways.
This is why it is highly contagious. I remember in 1979 I was working as a paediatric doctor and there had been a whooping cough vaccination scare resulting in a sharp increase in cases. It was pitiful to see the numerous admissions of babies and young children with distressing bouts of coughing. It is clear how when a vaccination is introduced how the incidence of the disease falls so rapidly but rises again if vaccination uptake declines.
If whooping cough is diagnosed during the first three weeks (21 days) of infection, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed. This is to prevent the infection being passed on to others.
It is important to take steps to avoid spreading the infection to others, particularly babies under six months of age.
Children with whooping cough should be kept away from school or nursery for five days from the time they start taking a prescribed course of antibiotics. The same advice applies to adults returning to work.
As a precaution, household members of someone with whooping cough may also be given antibiotics and a booster shot of the vaccine.
Antibiotics will not usually be prescribed in cases where whooping cough is not diagnosed until the later stages of infection (2-3 weeks after the onset of symptoms).
By this time, the Bordetella pertussis bacterium will have gone so you will no longer be infectious. It is also very unlikely that antibiotics will improve your symptoms at this stage.
Children are vaccinated against whooping cough with the 5-in-1 vaccine at two, three and four months of age, and again with the 4-in-1 pre-school booster before starting school at the age of about three years and four months.
Vaccination in pregnancy
In the UK, all pregnant women are offered vaccination against whooping cough when they are 28-38 weeks pregnant. Getting vaccinated while you’re pregnant could help to protect your baby from developing whooping cough in its first few weeks of life.
The immunity you get from the vaccine will pass to your baby through the placenta and provide passive protection for them until they are old enough to be routinely vaccinated against whooping cough at two months old.
Is the whooping cough vaccine safe in pregnancy?
It’s understandable that you might have concerns about the safety of having a vaccine during pregnancy, but there’s no evidence to suggest that the whooping cough vaccine is unsafe for you or your unborn baby.
Pertussis-containing vaccine has been used routinely in pregnant women since October 2012 and its safety has been carefully monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The MHRA’s study of nearly 20,000 vaccinated women found no evidence of risks to pregnancy or babies.
To date, 50-60% of eligible pregnant women (over half a million) have received the whooping cough vaccine with no safety concerns being identified in the baby or mother.
Vaccination against whooping cough in pregnancy is also routinely recommended in the US and New Zealand.
The pregnancy vaccination programme has been very effective in protecting babies until they can have their first vaccine when they are two months old.
During 2012, 14 babies died from whooping cough, all of whom were born before the vaccination in pregnancy programme was introduced, and developed whooping cough before they could be vaccinated themselves. The number of infant deaths from whooping cough fell to three in 2013 – all three babies were too young to have been vaccinated themselves and none of their mothers had been vaccinated in pregnancy.
Further questions can be answered using the following link:-