FRIDAY, Aug. 19, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Very few babies and children treated for coughs or respiratory illnesses have pertussis, a highly contagious childhood disease also known as whooping cough, Swiss researchers have found.
The findings should reassure doctors they aren't overlooking or misdiagnosing the illness, which is known for a distinctive-sounding and uncontrollable cough.
In conducting the study, Drs. Ulrich Heininger and Marie-Anne Burckhardt, of University Children's Hospital in Basel, analyzed nose and throat swabs from 1,059 infants, children and teens treated for a cough over the course of one year.
The investigators tested the swabs for respiratory viruses as well as Bordetella bacteria, including Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella parapertussis -- both of which can cause pertussis.
The study, published in the August issue of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, revealed that rates of Bordetella infection were low: just 2 percent of the patients were positive for B. pertussis and 0.5 percent were positive for B. parapertussis. The rates were low even among children whose doctor actually suspected pertussis and ordered a test for Bordetella.
In addition, the rates of Bordetella infection were low among children with confirmed respiratory viral infections, the study authors noted in a journal news release. Of 268 patients who tested positive for respiratory syncytial virus (a common respiratory infection in infants) only one child was also infected with Bordetella.
The study also found no link between respiratory viruses in children and their risk for Bordetella infection. The researchers cautioned, however, children with respiratory viruses could still be infected with Bordetella, although concurring infections are probably just coincidental.
The authors also pointed out that the study is limited by the fact that it was carried out in just one year when there were no pertussis outbreaks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on whooping cough.