Pertusssis – also known as ‘whooping cough’ because of the whoop noise people with pertussis make when they cough – is caused by a bacterium, Bordetella pertussis. It is spread through the air in tiny droplets from the cough of an infected person. Children can also catch pertussis by touching anything that has spit or vomit on from a person with pertussis. It is so infectious that everyone living with a person with pertussis will catch it unless they have been immunised.
‘Four year old Amin caught whooping cough from his friends and gave it to his sister Fatima and baby Myriam. They have all been coughing, vomiting, losing weight and becoming weak. The baby goes blue with the cough and may die.’
Pertussis can be very difficult to spot because it has the symptoms of a cold at first before it turns into the terrible cough.
It is difficult to treat pertussis because it is hard to notice early. Once it has got going it is hard to treat, but can be treated with medicines called antibiotics. Antibiotics help if they are taken early but if the cough has started they may not stop the pertussis.
Pertussis is usually given at the same time as immunisations for diphtheria and tetanus. Together these immunisations are known as ‘DTP’ (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis). The World Health Organization recommends that DTP is given to babies when they are six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks old.