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Whooping cough in children: symptoms and treatment, prevention

Despite the achievements of medicine - the presence of vaccines and effective drugs - whooping cough is still unbeaten disease. Pediatric infection is not only widespread, but often gives serious complications.

Knowing the symptoms characteristic of whooping cough, the tactics of its treatment in children and prevention, each parent can greatly alleviate the course of the disease in their baby and prevent its serious consequences.


Whooping cough: what is it?

Whooping cough in children

Whooping cough - an infectious disease with lesions of the respiratory tract and attacks of specific cough. Despite compulsory vaccinations, the disease is often diagnosed before the age of 5 years in children who have not received the vaccine.

The cause of the disease is infection with pertussis wand (Borde-Zhang). The susceptibility of unvaccinated people is 90-100%. This means that without receiving a vaccination, a person will fall ill anyway - sooner or later.

Whooping cough is especially contagious in the first 25 days (prodromal period).

The pertussis wand, although very contagious, quickly dies in the environment. Therefore, the only way of transmission is contact with a sick person or a bacterium carrier, which, when coughing, talking and sneezing, releases pathogenic agents into the surrounding air. Infection through household items is almost impossible.

Specific antibodies transmitted from mother to child with breast milk are often not enough to rule out whooping cough in babies. But just in children under 2 years of age, whooping cough occurs most clearly and is fraught with serious complications.

A pronounced seasonal increase in cases of whooping cough was not detected, however, children are more often ill in the autumn-winter period. Whooping cough in vaccinated children is extremely rarely diagnosed and is caused mainly by non-compliance with the vaccination schedule and weak general immunity in the child.

Adults who have been vaccinated or have had whooping cough in childhood can become ill only in old age (due to the age-related extinction of the immune defense). At the same time, the disease often erases and mimics the common cold.

Symptoms of whooping cough in children

Symptoms of whooping cough in children

The period from infection to the first manifestations of the disease lasts on average 5-7 days, can vary up to 3 weeks. Pertussis wand affects the bronchi and small bronchioles. The nasopharynx, larynx and trachea are less susceptible to specific inflammation.

In this case, the bacterium secretes a toxin that activates the cough center in the brain. Hence the characteristic clinic of the disease. Whooping cough in its development goes through the following stages:

Prodromal period

Lasts 1-2 weeks, similar to the common cold. The child has a runny nose / sneezing, a slight increase in temperature (never rises above 38ºС!), A weak sore throat and cough.

A characteristic feature - the cough is not stopped by traditional antitussive drugs.

Paroxysmal period

Starts with 3 weeks. The multiplication of bacteria leads to increased cough. The attacks become painful, the spastic nature of the cough is clearly visible: a whistling noise on the inhale and a few convulsive cough shocks on the exhale, ending at best with a discharge of viscous sputum.

  • Attacks of a specific "barking" cough, lasting 3-4 minutes, more often occur at night / morning.

At the same time, the painful symptoms of whooping cough can be accompanied by vomiting, cramps, and respiratory arrest. Whooping cough in children under one year does not have a typical course: after several cough spasms apnea occurs, which lasts a few seconds or minutes.

Against the background of normal temperature, the child’s general condition also suffers: irritability and tearfulness appear, the face becomes puffy, small hemorrhages on the skin and conjunctivitis may occur.

High fever during the period of spastic cough indicates adherence of streptococcal / staphylococcal infection. The duration of the paroxysmal period is 3-4 weeks.

Recovery period

Gradually, pertussis symptoms in children weaken and are completely eliminated by the action of specific antibodies produced in the body, which inactivate the pathogenic bacilli, and excitement from the cough center.

Treatment of pertussis in children

Treatment of pertussis in children

The diagnosis of whooping cough usually does not cause difficulties due to the characteristic course of coughing attacks - “100-day cough” in the absence of intoxication. In suspicious cases (differentiation of pertussis with acute respiratory infections, adenovirus infection, pneumonia), sputum culture and analysis of antibodies to pertussis toxin are performed.

Most often, treatment of pertussis in children is carried out at home. The hospital is necessary only for severe pertussis and the identified disease in newborns up to 3 months.

Therapeutic tactics for whooping cough:


Antibacterial drugs are effective (especially Erythromycin) due to the complete lack of resistance to pertussis to them. But their use of a course of 6-7 days is advisable only with early detection of the disease (10-12 days after infection, the prodromal period) or with the appearance of complications.

Cough drops

No mixtures and cough tablets for whooping cough give results! The cause of spastic cough is irritation of the respiratory center in the brain.

Therefore, in the treatment of pertussis in children, antitussives are replaced by walks, reading books and even some pampering of the baby (buying a new toy, watching cartoons, etc.). All these measures are aimed at distracting the child’s attention from the disease. What is forbidden to a healthy, sick baby is not only allowed, but also useful for alleviating the condition and speedy recovery.


To weaken the cough reflex, the use of antihistamines in the age dose and neuroleptics is permissible (only in extreme cases). Effective inhalation with proteolytic enzymes and oxygen therapy. The use of mustard plasters and cans is unacceptable!

Regime events

Equally important in the treatment of whooping cough in children is the ventilation and humidification of the air in the room, food in small portions, and the calm atmosphere in the house (no noise, no bright light).


Immunity in a child after whooping cough is persistent: repeated illness is almost impossible. However, bouts of paroxysmal cough may resume several months after recovery from the disease of respiratory infection (acute respiratory infections, influenza).

Weak coughing, nervous irritability, and signs of asthenia may occur for a long time after recovery, but do not indicate a chronic disease.


The risk of severe complications and death is increased only in sick infants (up to 2 years). The most frequent complications are:

  • respiratory arrest;
  • convulsions and encephalopathy;
  • bronchitis, pneumonia , pleurisy, false croup;
  • rupture of the eardrum (a consequence of the strongest cough), purulent otitis media;
  • cerebral hemorrhage (extremely rare).

Prevention of whooping cough in children

The only effective primary prevention (prevention of the disease) is to vaccinate with DTP according to the age schedule - three times up to 6 months and one revaccination at 18 years. The effectiveness of vaccination is 70-80%.

The following measures are taken at the source of infection (secondary prevention):

  1. Isolation of the patient (refusal to attend kindergarten, school) for 25 days.
  2. Quarantine 2 weeks for unvaccinated / non-diseased children.
  3. Examination of people who have come into contact with a sick child for carriage of pertussis.
  4. The introduction of immunoglobulin in contact with sick children and a course of antibiotic (even during infection, it greatly facilitates the course of the disease).

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