ZocdocAnswersHow does someone get whooping cough?

Question

How does someone get whooping cough?

My son has a bad cough and I'm really worried that it might be whooping cough. How does a person get whooping cough? Could he have caught it from kids at school? How is it contracted?

Answer

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease caused by Bordetella pertussis. An infected person will develop cold symptoms (low grade temperature, body aches, red eyes, runny nose, sneezing and mild cough initially. Then after one to two weeks it develops into severe coughing fits that last for approximately six weeks before subsiding. These uncontrollable coughing fits, each with five to ten forceful coughs, are followed by a high-pitched "whoop" sound in younger children, or a gasping suond in older children. Such fits can occur on their own or can be triggered by yawning, stretching, laughing, eating or yelling. They usually occur with multiple episodes around the clock. Does your son have these symptoms? Whooping cough spreads though inhalation of airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing by someone with the disease or by contact with recently contaminated hard surfaces upon which the droplets landed. These airborne droplets contain bacteria that thrive in the respiratory passages and bind to the tiny hairs (cilia) where they release different toxins and damage them, leading to a sloughing off of dead cells in the throat. The infection is very contagious even before symptoms appear. If you suspect your son has whooping cough and especially if he has been coughing more than 3 weeks, I would recommend a visit with a primary care physician or pulmonologist to have it checked out.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.