Don’t Be Fooled: Is it the Common Cold or Whooping Cough?
Beena Patel
May 16, 2011



Whooping cough is an infectious bacterial disease that causes uncontainable coughing that is known to break ribs and cause other complications. The bacterial term for whooping cough is known as Bordetella pertussis. This bacterial infection can affect people of any age; however, infants are at a higher risk of the severe disease and can result to death. There is a vaccine for Bordetella pertussis, but there have been outbreaks. The more everyone learns about whooping cough, the more likely that everyone will be aware of this infectious bacterial disease.


Choosing this topic was easy for me because I had a severe cough that lasted about a year and I thought it was whooping cough. Learning about this infectious bacterium that causes severe coughing interests me because it relates to what I thought was happening to my body. By researching how somebody can be affected by this infection, I was able to see how easy it is to be infected without knowing that one has whooping cough. Bordetella pertussis is highly contagious and many people shrug it off thinking it is a cold, but if they are not careful they can easily pass on the uncontrollable cough to somebody else.


What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is also called Bordetella pertussis. B. pertussis is a highly contagious, gram-negative, aerobic coccobacillus (Gregory 420-426). This bacterium begins building up or multiplying in the lungs which causes severe coughing. This infectious bacterial disease can be transmitted through airborne droplets. The incubation period for whooping cough is usually around seven to ten days. It may even go as long as 21 days and rarely continues on for 42 days (Schoenstadt).

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?
The symptoms differ based on the ages of the patients suffering from whooping cough. Young children and infants usually have three phases that can occur to them; nonetheless, in older children and adults, they may not even have any of the phases. There are three stages of whooping cough. The first stage is called the catarrhal stage. In this stage the symptoms are like those of a cold, such as: runny nose, mild cough, watery eyes, and sometimes a mild fever. This lasts from several days to about two weeks and this is where one is more likely to spread the disease to another person. The second stage is called the paroxysmal stage. In this phase the cold symptoms get better, but the cough gets worse. The cough will change from a mild, dry, hacking cough to becoming a severe cough that the person infected cannot control. A cough may continue for a long time to the point where he or she will not be able to breathe. Sometimes the person may even have to vomit because their cough is so severe. This is usually the worst phase. Between the cough attacks, the person suffering from whooping cough may feel completely normal. This phase usually lasts up to about another two to four weeks or even longer. The last stage is called the convalescence stage. In this stage, the cough may get louder however the symptoms gradually improve. It will typically disappear in approximately another two to three weeks. The only disadvantage is that little fits of coughing may come back if other respiratory infections occur (Watson).

What are the complications of B. pertussis?
As stated before, adults and older children usually have a mild case of whooping cough compared to an infant. Infants are at the highest risk of the severe disease and complications can occur which can ultimately lead to death because they are less capable of coping with the effort of coughing to maintain the airway (Tortora, 680-681). Some complications that can also occur are pneumonia, bradycardia, apnea, and conujunctivitis (Stojanov, 106). Universal immunization has controlled B. pertussis, but the vaccine is incomplete because there have been reported outbreaks. Over the past two decades, B. pertussis has increased in both Canada and the United States (Halperin 42).

How is whooping cough transmitted?

What is the treatment for whooping cough?
There are ways to protect one from being affected by whooping cough. Everyone should get a vaccination to become immune to the bacteria. Although the immunity begins to decline about four to twelve years after the vaccination it is still important to get a booster vaccination to make touch up the vaccination given as a baby. The treatment to help kill the bacteria and stop the severe coughing is to take antibiotics. The different antibiotics used are, azithromycin, clarithromycin, erythromycin, trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole. The person suffering from whooping cough has to take the antibiotics for about 14 days to treat the bacteria even if the symptoms have disappeared within the first week. The side effects caused by erythromycin are all gastrointestinal based. For example, some people may feel nausea, emesis, or have diarrhea vomiting (Stoppler and Marks). Anybody can easily mistake the symptoms of whooping cough by thinking it is a cold. It is always better to be safe than sorry so if we encourage people to get re-vaccinated for Bordetella pertussis then less people will be diagnosed and hopefully less infants will die.

Literature Cited:

Gregory, David. "Pertussis: A Disease Affecting All Ages." American Family Physicians 74.3 (2006): 420-426. Web. 11 May 2011. <>.

Halperin, Scott, R. Bortolussi, Joanne Langley, Brian Eastwood, and Gaston De Serres. "A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Erythromycin Estolate Chemoprophylaxis for Household Contacts of Children With Culture-Positive Bordetella pertussis Infection." Pediatrics 104. (1999): 42. Web. 11 May 2011. <>.

Stojanov, S., J. Liese, and B.H. Belohradsky. "Hospitalization and Complications in Children Under 2 Years of Age with Bordetella Pertussis Infection." Infection 28.3 (1999): 106-110. Web. 16 May 2011. <>.

Schoenstadt, Arthur. "Whooping Cough." MEDTV: Health Information Brought to Life. Clinaero, 25 Nov 2009. Web. 11 May 2011. <>.

Stoppler, Melissa, and Jay Marks. "Whooping Cough (Pertussis)." N.p., 02 Jul 2010. Web. 12 May 2011.

Tortora, Gerard J., Berdell R. Funke, and Christine L. Case. Microbiology an Introduction. 10th ed. San Francisco, California: Pearson, 2010. 680-681. Print.
Watson, Stephanie. "Whooping Cough (Pertussis)- Topic Overview." WebMD. Healthwise, 03 Jan 2010. Web. 11 May 2011. <>.