Can Whooping Cough Or Pertussis Lead To Death?

Whooping cough or pertussis is an infectious cough which starts off like a common cold. But as the infection progresses, it leads to violent fits of coughing with a “whooping” or whistling sound. Currently, about 1 million cases of whooping cough are reported every year, mostly among adults and adolescent.1 It can lead to severe breathlessness as you cough continuously and gasp for air, making it even difficult to eat and sleep.

Whooping cough is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis, which attack the upper respiratory system and make the respiratory airways swell, leading to bouts of coughing. Whooping cough is extremely contagious and you can get it by being exposed to mouth or nose secretions of an infected person, much like a cold. Infection persists for about 2 weeks till the cough clears up.2 Whooping cough is generally treated with


When Can Whooping Cough Be Deadly?

Whooping cough is usually fairly tolerated by a healthy adult. But it can be serious in children and deadly for babies below 1 year. One reason is that their immune systems are still developing and can’t take on this onslaught. Many small babies also don’t cough, instead choking and turning blue if they are not watched carefully. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 2010, at least 10–20 babies in the US die every year of whooping cough.3 Babies are also prone to pneumonia because of this infection, which too can turn fatal if not addressed in time. Epileptic seizures while coughing are another risk babies run.

Babies with whooping cough need vigilant care, ideally in a hospital setting. They must be kept well-hydrated and given the right combination of antibiotics for fastest recovery. In some cases, babies may need suctioning to clear their airways.

The pertussis vaccine offers a ray of hope

and is usually given to babies below the age of 1 to achieve immunity from this infection.While newborns cannot be vaccinated, your baby can be vaccinated from two months on. A series of doses will be administered thereafter until the child turns 6. A booster dose around the teen years will also be required. Moms-to-be should also get vaccinated while pregnant so your babies get the benefit of the antibodies.4 Pregnant women are prone to catch this infection if not immunized. So if you know you want to conceive, make sure your immunizations include whooping cough.

People whose immune systems are weak – such as those with diabetes, primary immunodeficiency (PI), HIV and AIDS, and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) – are also highly vulnerable to whooping cough. Since this cough spreads easily, someone with diabetes or other related immune disorders needs to be well protected as these predispose you to respiratory conditions. On contracting whooping cough, a diabetic will experience extreme

high and low blood sugars, fatigue, and in some cases bronchitis and pneumonia. Hospitalization and insulin treatment might be necessary to control blood sugars. Getting yourself vaccinated can help preempt the condition and the often disastrous fallout.5

If you know the whooping cough infection is making the rounds, use a face mask especially in public places and while using public transport. Remember, if your immune system is weak, you are doubly prone to catch the infection and recovery may take longer.