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"What is whooping cough?"

ZocdocAnswersWhat is whooping cough?


What is whooping cough? I've heard it's epidemic in California, and I live in the Bay Area. Now I'm developing this cough that actually does make a loud, coarse 'whooping' sound. How alarmed should I be? I know it's especially risky for kids, but I'm in my 20s, so that's not an issue with me.


Whooping Cough is also known as Pertussis, and is the illness caused by the bacteria known as Bordetella pertussis. The "whooping" sound that is classically associated with this infection does not actually refer to way the cough sounds, but rather to the noise the patient makes after a fit of coughing. Young children with narrower airways will experience a prolonged bout of coughing, and then take a deep inspiratory gasp of air, causing a "whooping" noise. As adults have larger airways, this noise is seldom heard. You are correct in that California has experienced an increase in the number of cases of Pertussis. Unfortunately, suboptimal rates of vaccination in the adolescent and adult populations have led to increasing numbers of the illness throughout the country, which raises the risk of infection in the newborn population, which is at greatest risk of morbidity from the illness. Typically adults with Pertussis will experience 1-2 months of prolonged coughing fits, which may or may not be followed by episodes of vomiting. Most adults will recover from the infection without any consequences. Antibiotics may help lessen the severity of the illness but only if given very early in the course. If you have concerns about your cough or feel that the severity of the symptoms is getting worse, you should see your primary care physician.

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