Whooping cough -- also known as pertussis -- is a bacterial infection of the upper respiratory system. It targets the area where the nasal passages meet the back of the throat. Whooping cough is most serious in babies under four months old, when it can often lead to complications like pneumonia, ear infections, or bronchitis. Adults and teenagers may catch a milder version of whooping cough and not even realize they have it.
The disease is caused by a specific type of bacteria, and the infection is passed on to others through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs. Whooping cough is highly infectious -- from the first sneezes through the whole course of the disease, which can last up to eight weeks. Anyone who has not been vaccinated during that period can catch whooping cough just by standing in the same room as an infected person. It usually takes 7 to 14 days for symptoms to develop after being infected.
Whooping cough begins with a cold and a mild cough. The latter soon escalates into severe coughing bouts, where the infected person coughs until there is no air left in the lungs. This is followed by a deep intake of break to replenish the lungs, and this produces a "whooping" sound when the air passes through the windpipe. Such attacks can happen as often as 40 times a day. There is usually no fever unless complications develop.
The American Society for Microbiology contributed to the TV portion of this report.