Haven’t you heard? Just like canning, making your own clothes, and artisanal cheese, whooping cough, or pertussis, is back in a big way. But seriously, it’s actually really concerning for the CDC, who are cautioning that the disease is rising at unprecedented rates, and for individuals, who may be exposed to it without having all the information. In infants and the elderly, it can be fatal, or cause permeant disability. Here’s what you need to know about whooping cough: The symptoms, how it’s transmitted, and how it’s treated.
First off, whooping cough symptoms. Most people say you first know that someone has whooping cough because of the “whooping” sound they make when they breathe, and by the violent, uncontrollable bouts of coughing. But there are other symptoms leading up to those big ones, which usually mimic the common cold or, in very young children, pneumonia. Look for a fever, runny nose, and possibly diarrhea. Symptoms usually begin to develop a week or so after exposure, with the “whoop” developing around day 10 or 12.
Exposure to whooping cough isn’t tough–it can be transmitted through the bacteria expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. Teaching regular hand-washing to kids (and keeping the sanitizer close by in the office) and how to keep their coughs to themselves (into the elbow, little dudes!) is a good line of defense, but because the germs are airborne, exposure can be as easy as having a sick co-worker or classmate.
In the fall, you may want to speak to your child’s teacher or a school administrator, to make sure they’re communicating with parents about the disease. Because most children are vaccinated for the drug, it has, in the last few decades, mostly been viewed as a disease of teens or older adults–meaning it’s unlikely that your child would be exposed at school. However, as more parents opt their kids out of vaccinations, the classroom is quickly reverting back to a place where exposure is possible.
Fortunately, there are tests for whooping cough, which are effective fairly early on–but it’s up to you to get to the doctor. A mucus swab is all that’s required and, just to be on the safe side, your doctor may start you on a treatment plan before the test results come back.
Treatment for the disease is fairly effective if it’s caught early; antibiotics can clear up the symptoms more rapidly. But unfortunately, most people don’t seek treatment until it’s too late to treat with medicine. However, a doctor may still prescribe antibiotics to help curb the spread of disease.
If you think you may have whooping cough, stay home. This is probably the most important piece of advice to keep it from spreading. Don’t go into work until you’ve had a test from your doctor, and keep your kids home from school. Because of the surge in whooping cough cases, the CDC is concerned that some strains may become drug-resistant, which means prevention is still the best step.
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