What is Whooping Cough?
Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory illness that's passed from person to person through tiny droplets containing the Bordetella pertussis bacteria expelled into the air when someone coughs or sneezes. The time between the initial infection and the first symptoms can range from seven to 21 days, so it's difficult to determine where and how a person contracts it. The bacteria create toxins that damage the respiratory tract lining and prevent the body from fighting off other germs, which is why many young children who contract pertussis go on to develop ear infections, pneumonia, and seizures.
"Infants less than 12 months of age have a high risk of pertussis-related complications, hospitalizations, and death," says Dr. Steve Cochi, acting director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Immunization Program. Older children and adults frequently experience violent coughing fits that result in vomiting, cracked ribs, facial bruising, petechiae (ruptured blood vessels on the face, neck, and chest), bleeding in the whites of the eyes, and temporary loss of consciousness. Untreated, a mild case of whooping cough lasts for at least three weeks, while other cases typically last for three months or longer. The Chinese call the illness "the 100-day cough."