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Health Tip: Whipping Whooping Cough

How to know when that persistent cough is more than just annoying

(HealthDay News) -- Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, was one of the most common and fatal childhood diseases in the United States before the availability of the pertussis vaccine in the 1940s.

And even though there is a vaccine readily available, there still are thousands of cases every year.

Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium bordetella pertussis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection is spread through the air by exhaled droplets from an infected person. The incubation period is usually seven days. The illness starts with a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough. The cough becomes more severe, and after one to two weeks, the infected person has bursts of numerous, rapid coughs. Attacks occur more frequently at night.

Adolescents, adults and those partially protected by the vaccine can become infected, but they usually have milder form of the disease than small children. But no matter its severity, whooping cause can be spread by infected persons, especially unimmunized or underimmunized infants.

Antibiotics may shorten the duration of the symptoms if started early. Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed after the period when antibiotics are most effective, and so generally they are not used.

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