Whooping cough, or pertussis, is one of the most serious childhood illnesses. A highly contagious bacterial infection, it is spread by droplets of water sneezed or coughed by the sufferer.

The bacteria attack the mucous membranes lining the airways, and after an incubation period of one to two weeks, a cough, runny nose, mild fever and loss of appetite develop. Conjunctivitis, where the eyes become pink, sore and runny, is sometimes another symptom. In about another week coughing becomes paroxysmal, particularly at night. Spasms of coughing end with a characteristic ‘whooping’, a noisy indrawing of breath. Vomiting may follow a paroxysm of coughing, ridding the body of mucus congesting the respiratory tract so as to make breathing easier. The illness may last up to four months, but the sufferer is contagious for only a month from the onset of symptoms.

Complications from whooping cough include bronchopneumonia, encephalitis, brain and lung damage and dehydration as a result of vomiting. Death can result from complications. Babies are especially at risk of dying.

Vaccination against whooping cough is highly recommended, despite the possible side effects which are considered to be less dangerous than the disease itself.

A doctor should be called immediately if whooping cough develops. Natural remedies can also be used in conjunction with medical advice. Homoeopathies, Vitamin C and herbal expectorants and relaxants may be recommended. Keeping up the supply of liquids, particularly if the child is vomiting, and avoiding mucus-forming foods such as dairy products, is also advised.


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