Whooping cough (pertussis) causes, symptoms, remedies and new potential treatment

Whooping cough (pertussis) causes, symptoms, remedies and new potential treatment

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a contagious respiratory infection that causes a severe hacking coughing, followed by a high pitched “whoop” sound when the person takes in their next breath.

Prior to the development of the vaccine, whooping cough was common among children, but now cases are limited to children who are too young to receive the vaccination.

Potential new treatment for whooping cough developed by Texas engineers

A research team from the University of Texas and Synthetic Biologics Inc. worked together to develop two antibodies that have the potential to treat or prevent pertussis. Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that affects millions of infants worldwide.

Development of the antibodies has been in progress over the last five years, and the new treatments will be used as anti-pertussis injections. In preclinical testing on animals, the antibodies provided short-term immunity and treatment to accelerate recovery.

Potential new treatment for whooping cough developed by Texas engineersWhooping cough can lead to life-threatening symptoms and painful fits of coughing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that over 16 million cases of whooping cough occur each year, and it is still a leading cause of death in infants in developing countries.

Jennifer Maynard, Ph.D., a chemical engineer in the Cockrell School of Engineering, said, “In the developing world, an estimated 200,000 babies die a year, and that’s where we think we can have a really big impact. If we can get our antibodies to these high-risk infants, we could potentially prevent the infection from occurring in the first place.”

In infants with whooping cough, pertussis toxin is excreted, which damages the immune system and raises the child’s white blood cell counts dangerously high. This causes cells to block blood flow to the lungs.

The new antibodies neutralize the pertussis toxin, which prevents it from binding to healthy cells and stops it from reaching its target within the healthy cell.

Co-author Dr. Michael Kaleko said, “We believe the key to preventing death is reducing the white blood cell load, which becomes extremely elevated during infection. If we can bring the count down or keep it low, the sick child may have a much better prognosis.”

Dr. Maynard concluded, “We want to make sure that our research is really going to have impact. Most of the babies who get sick haven’t been immunized, so we hope to provide the immunity that they are lacking.”

Pertussis causes and symptoms

Pertussis is caused by bacteria; when an infected person coughs or sneezes the bacteria can spread onto objects or other individuals, thus making it highly contagious.

Symptoms of pertussis can take up to 10 days to appear, and at first they may be mild, but over time they will become more severe. Initial symptoms of pertussis are similar to a cold, but as they progress they turn into the hacking cough with “whoop” breathing. Symptoms of pertussis include:

  • Pertussis causes and symptomsRunny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Coughing that provokes vomiting
  • Coughing that causes a person to be red or blue in the face
  • Coughing that causes extreme fatigue
  • High-pitched “whoop” sound when inhaling

Pertussis treatment

If coughing is severe, an infant may be hospitalized due to the higher risk of complications presented in this age group. If keeping food and liquid down is a problem, nutrients may be given intravenously to keep the person hydrated. For older children and adults, pertussis can be taken care of at home.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to help speed up recovery by fighting the bacteria caused by the infection. Because pertussis is highly contagious, family members may be given preventative antibiotics.

Unfortunately, over-the-counter cough medications have little to no effect on the cough itself, so they are not recommended.

The best way to avoid pertussis at any age is to get vaccinated and receive booster shots over time to ensure your body has the antibodies it needs.

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Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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