What is pertussis (whooping cough)?

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What is pertussis (whooping cough)?

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Pertussis, widely known as “whooping cough” is a contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory system. It’s called “whooping cough” because children infected with it gasp for air between the fierce bouts of coughing that it causes. More than half of the victims of whooping cough are infants. Particularly intense coughing can cause infants with whooping cough to stop breathing for several seconds at a time. Whooping cough, which can lead to pneumonia, is treated with antibiotic medications. Once deadly, it can now be prevented with a vaccine.

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Whooping cough is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria. Whooping cough begins like a common cold with a runny nose and scratchy throat. After a few days, a mild cough begins and over the following days, this cough becomes progressively worse. Children and adults who get pertussis experience spells of violent coughing. It is not uncommon to cough to the point of gagging or vomiting, or to cough to the point of breathlessness. In between spells of coughing, children may appear to be doing okay. Coughing spells (called paroxysmal coughing) are worse at night. Untreated, the course of pertussis lasts weeks and sometimes months. The respiratory tract can take up to a full year to recover completely. Infants under one year are at highest risk for death from pertussis pneumonia.