Facts and advice on whooping cough direct from paediatricians. Standing next to a small unvaccinated baby with severe whooping cough is among the most worrying thing I have ever experienced. The baby gets such horrific cough attacks that they often end up turning blue-gray and losing breath, sometimes even consciousness. A baby with severe loss of breath and anxiety is one of the hardest things to see, believe me. And no one can help the baby through the cough attack.
As a paediatrician, you do what you can, and often you can get the child breathing again after the cough attack. But sometimes it doesn't help. Two infants died from whooping cough in 2014, and one child died in 2015. I also know that many babies with whooping cough have repeatedly diagnosed with a normal cough and been sent home without sampling, without anyone thinking of whooping cough, because they did not see a cough attack at the time.
Symptoms of whooping cough in infants
The first symptom of whooping cough in an infant may be respiratory arrest. If your child suffers respiratory arrest you need to shake the child and usually the child begins to breathe. If not, you can give mouth-to-mouth breathing and call 112. Of course, you must come to the paediatrician after a respiratory arrest, and then make sure that the child is tested for whooping cough.
If someone in the family has been coughing for a long time, the child should probably have antibiotic treatment as if it were whooping cough before the test results arrive.
Normally the infection progresses like the common cold with the sniffles and cough for a few days. But unlike a common cold, the cough does not get better, but it gets worse and worse.
The cough attacks become awful and when the child inhales it wheezes loudly - the child chokes.
Symptoms of whooping cough in older children and adults
In older children and adults, whooping cough infection appears much more like a regular, common cold. The symptoms typical in infants are not found. The disease is also not dangerous for older children and adults, only painful.
If you are close to infants and catch a cough - get tested for whooping cough! I know that there are many who have been denied such testing by health care doctors. I get equally angry every time.
All infants who may have been infected should receive antibiotics
It is true that in the case of whooping cough, which is a bacterial disease, antibiotics help if they are given early, before the coughing starts. It is most effective if you get it before you even get symptoms. There is a special antibiotic called Ery-Max that the children receive. Common penicillin does not help. Unfortunately, it really causes a lot of stomach side effects. But a screaming baby with a stomach ache for ten days is so much better than a baby with whooping cough.
Vaccine against whooping cough
Vaccines against whooping cough are included in the general vaccination program. It is a truly life-saving vaccine, babies who have received a dose of vaccine may well get whooping cough, but they survive their whooping cough.
Many adults lack protection from whooping cough and can infect infants
Barn får påfyllnadsdoer av kikhostevaccin vid 5 och 15 års ålder. Men därefter finns inga påfyllnadsdoser. Det innebär att väldigt många vuxna är oskyddade mot sjukdomen.
In addition, there was a period during the 1980s when no vaccination against whooping cough in Sweden was available due to suspicions that the old whooping cough vaccine (so-called whole-cell vaccine against whooping cough) had caused severe side effects in some infants.
The vaccine used in Sweden now (acellular whooping cough vaccine) has no serious side effects, but is also not very effective.
Therefore, the number of cases of whooping cough in Sweden is increasing, and the risk of infecting infants is increasing.
Pertussis vaccine for pregnant women protects infants against whooping cough
In the United Kingdom, we recently had an even worse whooping cough epidemic than was currently experienced in Sweden. There, 14 infants died in 2012 and 13 infants in 2013 to 2016. In 2017, no child in the UK died of whooping cough after introducing whooping cough vaccination of pregnant women.
Pertussis vaccine for pregnant women protects in two ways. Partly because the mother forms antibodies that are transmitted via the placenta to the newborn baby. Partly because the mother herself receives protection and does not risk getting sick and infecting the baby when it is newborn.
In Sweden, the general vaccination of pregnant women against whooping cough is not recommended, as it is not considered cost-effective considering how unusual the infection is. It does not prevent individual pregnant women from going to a vaccination agency and requesting a replenishment dose of whooping cough vaccine during the last third of pregnancy.
Breastfeeding does not provide any more protection against whooping cough compared to bottle feeding.
Whooping cough is a deadly disease for infants. It can be prevented through vaccinations for pregnant women, through vaccinations for the infants from two months of age and through antibiotic treatment for infants exposed to infection. Test infants and their family members with suspected whooping cough.