Whooping Cough in Babies

Whooping Cough in Babies

A Primer on Whooping Cough in Babies

Whooping cough is a serious bacterial infection of the upper respiratory system that is usually spread from person to person by sneezing or coughing. Babies who develop the infection may be especially vulnerable to complications, which is why parents and siblings who show signs of the disease should be kept away from infants.

Very young individuals may have immune systems that are weaker than those in healthy adults. This makes whooping cough in babies particularly serious, because the condition can sometimes develop into pneumonia. Children under the age of one who develop whooping cough are likely to end up in the hospital where their lungs can be monitored. In serious cases, breathing machines may be used.

Signs of Whooping Cough

The signs of whooping cough are generally the same in both adults and small children. If parents suspect that their infant may have the condition, they should watch for the following symptoms:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • violent coughing spells that take on the characteristic “whooping” tone
  • low-grade fever

Because whooping cough is a bacterial infection, it will often generate a low-grade fever. Parents can check the temperature of the baby to determine if his/her temperature is slightly elevated. A formal diagnosis of whooping cough by an accredited general practitioner will generally use the fever as one of the tell-tale symptoms. Caregivers can place a damp washcloth on the forehead of the infant to provide some relief. Ice-packs, even when they are wrapped in towels or other barriers, should not be used on children under the age of one. Babies who develop prolonged, severe coughs should be taken to the doctor for a thorough medical evaluation at the earliest opportunity.

Prognosis and Recovery

The prognosis for infants with whooping cough is generally good, presuming that unforeseen complications do not occur. There are various medications that can lessen the symptoms, though antibiotics will not generally be effective if pertussis has not been diagnosed in the first week or two. Parents who come down with whooping cough will be contagious through the third week of violent coughing.

Families should make a concerted effort to keep any contagious adults away from the baby until they can be sure that infection is no longer a possibility. Some infants may develop seizures if the condition is allowed to progress untreated, but this is generally rare. In all cases, an effective medical evaluation and possible microbial intervention should ensure that the baby recovers fully.


In order to prevent your infant from developing the condition, vaccinations are recommended throughout the first year of life at fairly regular intervals. Specialists recommend a series of shots at the following intervals:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 16 months

After the series of shots given in the first year or so of life, booster shots will still generally be required to stay on the safe side. Once individuals have reached their teenage years, shots are given very infrequently. The goal is to keep the slate of vaccinations up to date so that the bacteria does not have a chance to sneak into the lungs during a weak period. If families happen to live in an area of the world where whooping cough is quite prevalent, then vaccinations may be mandated by the government.

Ultimately, whooping cough in babies is usually more serious than the same condition in adults. With vaccinations and a general knowledge of the symptoms of the disease, parents can protect their babies and keep them healthy and happy going forward.


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