Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
Pertussis is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria
called Bordatella pertussis. It is also called whooping
cough because of the characteristic sound of the cough it
The illness usually begins with a runny nose, mild cough,
and pink eyes that last about a week. Then an increasingly
severe cough develops that can last 2 to 4 weeks. The cough
usually comes in spasms and ends with a high-pitched whoop.
Often the coughing causes a child to vomit or his or her
face to turn blue. In infants, whooping cough is a very
serious illness and may require them to be hospitalized.
The doctor will prescribe your child an antibiotic.
Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever
over 102 degrees F (38.9 degrees C).
- Coughing spasms
Warm apple juice or tea may help break the coughing
spasms and is soothing to your child. A humidifier in
your child's room may also help. (The humidifier must
be cleaned every 2 to 3 days.) Gentle suction with a
bulb syringe and saline water may be used to get rid of
thick secretions in the nose and throat.
Encourage your child to drink lots of clear fluids to
prevent the mucus in the lungs from becoming sticky.
- Avoidance of cough triggers
Keep your children away from things that trigger
coughing, such as tobacco smoke, perfumes, or
- Care of exposed persons
All people in close contact with your child will be
asked to take an antibiotic for 14 days. This includes
people in your immediate household and any day care
contacts your child may have.
It is important to have your child and his or her siblings
immunized against all preventable illnesses, including
whooping cough, at their regularly scheduled health
Some parents have concerns about the neurologic side effects
of the pertussis vaccine. It must be remembered that
pertussis is a dangerous disease, especially for infants.
The risk of getting pertussis if a child is not immunized is
1 in 3000. The death rate for whooping cough is 1 in 100,
and the rate of neurologic problems resulting from whooping
cough is 1 in 200. On the other hand, the risk of having
neurological damage from the vaccine is reported to be 1 in
2 million. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated
strongly that "the risk of suffering and death caused by
whooping cough is far greater than the possible side effects
of the vaccine."
Call Your Child's Physician IMMEDIATELY If:
- Coughing spasms cause your child's face, hands, or feet
to turn blue.
- Your child stops breathing with any coughing spells.
- Your child's breathing becomes fast or difficult.
- Your child has a seizure.
- Your child is not responding to you or seems lethargic
- Your child is not drinking.
- Your child develops a fever higher than 104 or
105 degrees F (39 degrees C).
- Your child starts to act very sick.
Call Your Child's Physician Within 24 Hours If:
- Your child is less than 6 months old and has coughing
- Your child has been exposed to someone with whooping
- Your child's cough lasts longer than 3 weeks.
- You have other questions or concerns.