Everything you need to know about whooping cough

Everything you need to know about whooping cough

What is whooping cough

Whooping cough is a contagious infectious disease that occurs worldwide. All age groups can get whooping cough. In principle, whooping cough is harmless to young people and adults. It can be dangerous for:

  • children under 1 year
  • premature babies
  • adults who have not been vaccinated

Especially young babies can become seriously ill. It is therefore good to know more about whooping cough and how you can recognize the complaints in time.

What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is an infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract. It is caused by a bacterium bordetella pertussis. This bacteria is passed on through saliva droplets in the air, for example by coughing or sneezing. The symptoms of whooping cough are very similar to a common cold. Think of sniffling, coughing and a tired feeling in the body. Young children are most susceptible to whooping cough because they have often not yet been fully vaccinated against whooping cough. Unvaccinated adults and pregnant women also belong to the risk group.

In general, whooping cough is harmless for older children and adults. This is because in most cases these age groups have already been vaccinated. Due to the vaccination, deaths from whooping cough have decreased significantly over the years. However, whooping cough can have serious consequences for young infants.

How common is whooping cough in the Netherlands?

Whooping cough has been well under control in the Netherlands since 1957 thanks to a good vaccination program. The Atlas infectious diseases points out that since 2010, between 4,000 and around 8,000 reports have been recorded per year. The peak in the number of whooping cough reports was 82.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 (around 8,000 incidents). The vast majority of Dutch children are vaccinated against whooping cough every year.

The vaccination program has made whooping cough manageable, which has also reduced the number of reports.

Whooping cough during the corona pandemic

Since the start of the corona pandemic in 2019, there has been a clear decline in the number of whooping cough reports. It is likely that the measures against corona (think: the one and a half meter distance, lock downs and improved hygiene) have contributed to this.

Is whooping cough dangerous?

The incubation period for whooping cough is two to three weeks. You are most contagious during this period. The symptoms are only visible after these three weeks. Whooping cough starts with coughing attacks (irritating or tickling cough) and sneezing, but you can also suffer from:

  • possibly a mild fever
  • coughing up clear and/or tough mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • vomit
  • whooping breathing
  • fatigue

The most common complaints are coughing fits. It is therefore also called the 100-day cough because the coughing fits can last 3 to 4 months. As a rule, young people and adults do not become seriously ill. The coughing fits often lead to fatigue. Whooping cough goes away on its own. Usually after 3 to 4 months. Cough attacks can be worse at night. Over time, the complaints decrease.

Whooping cough can be very dangerous for unvaccinated babies because they are not yet fully resistant to the infection. It is important to keep a close eye on your young baby and to recognize the symptoms of whooping cough in time. The symptoms in babies are often different in nature. Babies can suffer from:

  • bad food
  • wheezing (this is often accompanied by a whooping sound)
  • turns blue
  • coughing fits (it often happens that a baby does not have a cough)

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately because your baby will probably need extra care quickly.

Is whooping cough dangerous in babies?

The infectious disease can be dangerous for babies and unvaccinated children because they can quickly become exhausted due to possible coughing fits or difficult breathing. This can cause your baby to become short of breath and quickly run out of oxygen. If the right care is not provided in time, the baby may die. An oxygen deficiency can often be recognized by the turning blue of lips, fingers and toes.

In some cases, brain damage can occur. It happens that a baby contracts pneumonia. In the worst case, the young infant dies.

Due to the serious consequences, a large proportion of babies in the Netherlands are admitted to hospital. These are mainly babies younger than three months. They are not yet fully grafted.

It is therefore important that you contact your GP or hospital if you suspect that your baby has this disease. Even if you are pregnant and not vaccinated, this can have consequences for the unborn child.

Whooping cough in pregnant women

For a pregnant woman, whooping cough can be dangerous for your unborn baby. You can transmit the disease through the umbilical cord. If you have not yet been vaccinated against whooping cough, it is advisable to get vaccinated. Also called the 22 week injection. It is part of the National Vaccination Programme. It is best to be vaccinated between 24 and 32 weeks. The young infant is well protected by the antibodies that the mother produces. It is also possible to get a booster shot, if you have already been vaccinated.

If you suspect whooping cough complaints, contact your doctor. In specific cases, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics for the entire family.

What is the treatment for whooping cough?

A blood test or the removal of mucus from behind the nose can make the correct diagnosis of whooping cough. It often happens that this bacteria is cultured to diagnose whether it is whooping cough. In exceptional cases it may be decided to administer antibiotics:

  • if you are more than 34 weeks pregnant and have not had a vaccination against whooping cough as a pregnant woman.
  • if the baby is younger than 1 year
  • if your child has a serious heart or lung disease

 Young infants are usually admitted to the hospital for observation. If necessary, the young babies receive temporary breathing support.

For vaccinated children and adults who have a mild form of whooping cough, treatment is only aimed at relieving the symptoms. For example, you can take an antitussive to soften the cough. Consider, for example, a cough syrup or throat lozenges. Taking nose drops can also ensure that you suffer less from the complaints.

Can you prevent whooping cough?

Unfortunately, it is possible that you will get whooping cough once in your life. The vaccination only provides temporary protection and decreases over the years. If you have been diagnosed with whooping cough, you should be extra attentive to your hygiene. This reduces the chance of infection. When coughing or sneezing it is best to:

  • use a disposable paper tissue. Think about the environment and throw the tissue in the trash after use.
  • coughing in the fold of the elbow.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water several times a day. Make sure you wash both the inside and outside of your hands thoroughly, don't forget to clean between your fingers.
  • avoid contact with newborn babies and children who have not yet been fully vaccinated.
  • your child to learn to cough and sneeze responsibly.
  • Do not take your child with you on a maternity visit with someone else. Especially if your child has not yet been (fully) vaccinated.

Taking the vaccine significantly reduces the chance of contracting this highly contagious disease.

What can you do yourself if you have whooping cough?

Just like a normal cold, whooping cough goes away on its own. A body needs sufficient rest to recover properly. Cough attacks are often aggravated by stress, passive smoking or smoking and temperature changes.

With children, you can raise their heads when they sleep. This way they can breathe easier. For example, you can place extra pillows under the mattress.

It happens that your child is hungry after a coughing fit. It is important that the child eats. This restores the healing process.

Drink regularly. This makes it easier to cough up mucus.

The outdoors is good for you. Ventilate indoors regularly and ensure a cool bedroom.

Can my child go to school?

In principle, the child can go to school if he or she has whooping cough. The symptoms have then been demonstrable for quite some time and it is likely that the period of infection has already passed.

At the daycare center it may be decided to keep unvaccinated children at home. It is wise that there is proper consultation between the relevant authority and parents or guardians.

It is always good to inform the daycare center or school, so that other parents or caregivers can also be informed. If in doubt, ask your doctor for advice.

Is whooping cough a contagious disease?

If you have symptoms, such as coughing and sneezing, you can still work. The contagious period is already over and there is no point in staying at home. Keep your distance and ensure good hygiene. However, different regulations apply during the corona pandemic.

Some symptoms of whooping cough correspond to the corona complaints. If necessary, take a self-test if necessary and stay at home for the period prescribed by the government.

Why whooping cough vaccination?

Vaccination against whooping cough has been part of the National Vaccination Program since 1957. Vaccination starts at a young age and is part of the DKTP jab. Children are also protected against diphtheria, tetanus and polio.

The first vaccination can be given from 6 weeks of age. The entire vaccination program includes 4 injections. The first three vaccinations are given before the age of 1 year. The child receives the fourth injection, the so-called booster vaccination, at the age of 4.

Are you pregnant? Then you are also entitled to the DTK vaccination. DTK stands for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. The 22-week injection for pregnant women has been given since 2017. Vaccination is not mandatory and it remains your choice. The Ministry of Health only advises pregnant women to take the vaccine between 24 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. The vaccination costs you nothing because it is reimbursed. The vaccination gives your unborn child antibodies so that the baby is protected from birth.

If you choose to take the vaccine against corona (Covid-19), there must be at least 14 days between the corona vaccination and whooping cough vaccination. Ask your doctor for advice.

Do you work a lot with children and have you not yet had a vaccination against whooping cough? In this case, the RIVM recommends that you also get vaccinated. It is also possible to take a revaccination if you have already been vaccinated before. You will then receive the so-called booster vaccination. This not only protects yourself but also the children around you. You can request the vaccination through your GP.

If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected for five to ten years. The protection of the vaccine is not lifelong and decreases over the years. That is why you can get whooping cough later in life. This means that you can get whooping cough at least once in your life. It remains a contagious disease.

Although you most likely have mild complaints, you can infect others. Therefore, avoid contact with young children during this period.

People with a serious (intellectual) disability may experience additional discomfort from this infectious disease. In some cases, revaccination may be considered. This is according to the guidelines of the RIVM.

More information about whooping cough vaccinations can be found on the website of the Government Information Service: https: //rijksvaccinatieprogramma.nl/vaccinaties.

Does the vaccination have side effects?

The DTKP vaccination is safe for everyone. All approved vaccinations meet strict safety requirements. A vaccine often has mild side effects.

A side effect is the body's response to the vaccine. The immune system takes action against the particle of bacteria contained in the vaccine. This actually helps you build up better resistance and protects you well against the disease. In this case it is whooping cough. The most common side effects of a vaccine are a mild fever, headache, drowsiness and pain where you were vaccinated. The area may also be red and swollen.

After approval of a vaccine, side effects continue to be recorded for quite some time. This is, among other things, to guarantee the safety of the vaccine.

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