Pertussis or Whooping Cough
By Ryan Fyfe
Whooping cough a.k.a (also known as) Pertussis is a highly contagious disease. Whooping cough is one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable deaths. There are 30 to 50 million cases of Pertussis per year. Of these millions of cases there is about three hundred thousand deaths each year. Basically all of these deaths occur in children under twelve months of age. Another quick statistic is that of these 30 to 50 million cases, 90% occor in developing countries.
The disease was easily and widely recognized in as early as 1578. It was later isolated in pure culture in 1906 by Octave Gengou and Jules Bordet. The complete Pertussis genome of 4,086,186 base pairs was sequenced in 2002. Inititially the disease is characterized by mild respiratory infection symptoms. These symptoms include a cough, sneezing, and runny nose. This initial stage lasts for about one to two weeks. After this first two week period the cough changes character, with paroxysms of coughing followed by a "whooping" sound. Often times these coughing fits are followed by vomiting. This constant coughing and vomitting in several cases leads to malnutrition. Coughing fits gradually go away over the first one to two months. Other complications of the disease include pneumonia, encephalitis, pulmonary hypertension, and secondary bacterial superinfection.
Whooping Cough is spread by contact with an airborne discharge from the mucous membranes of an infected person. The disease is treated with antibiotics like erythromycin, azithromycin and clarithromycin. These antibiotics result in the person becoming less infectious but in the majority of cases does not change the outcome of the disease.
Immunizations for whooping cough are often combined and given with tetanus and diphtheria immunizations. These immunizations are given to infants at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, and later at 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years. Many cases of Whooping Cough in adults will go unnoticed and diagnosed due to the fact that it is much less severe.