Whooping cough (pertussis) is a respiratory tract infection regarded as highly contagious. The main cause of whooping cough is a bacterial infection, spreading from interaction with the cough itself. To prevent cases of the whooping cough, vaccines have been created and are encouraged at a younger age. Signs of developing pertussis include a severe
hacking cough followed by the “whoop”, described as a high-pitched intake of breath. In this essay, we will analyze and discuss the causes, vaccines, and symptoms associated with the whooping cough.
The cause of this disease is a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. In order to gain a better understanding of the bacteria, I decided on researching it and learning its role in creating the whooping cough. Bordetella pertussis causes Pertussis by colonizing the respiratory tract of humans. The respiratory tract refers to the passage which air passes during breathing, formed by the throat, nose, lungs, and mouth. Pertussis is diagnosed by looking at clinical history and extracting the Bordetella pertussis from mucus. In some cases, a polymerase chain reaction test is used if the other methods prove ineffective. If genetic material from the mucus matches genetic material in Bordetella pertussis, the test is positive. This bacterium “is not found in any animal or environmental reservoirs, but resides in the mouth, nose, and throat of humans.” (Clyburn). This is important because it indicates that the disease only concerns humans, meaning animals can not be affected. The process in which Bordetella pertussis makes its presence known is quite intriguing. First, the bacterium manages to attach itself to the cilia. The cilia, part of the upper respiratory system, are tiny hair like structures on the surface of the cell that sweep mucus, hair, dust, and bacteria to the back of throat, which becomes swallowed. The cilia are damaged by the bacteria’s toxins, and as a result, the airways begin to swell. (CDC)
The whooping cough is a common disease; approximately, 16 million cases of pertussis occur each year in the world, resulting in about 195,000 deaths. In the United States, over 48,000 cases of pertussis were reported in 2012. However, many more cases occurred that were not reported. The number of reported cases of whooping cough has been increasing since the 1980s. Pertussis mainly occurs in children and adolescents; however, people of all ages can become affected. Babies two months and younger are more susceptible to the infection, as their bodies are not mature enough to handle the vaccination. The way they can acquire the disease is through infected parents or other children. (CC)
The initial signs of the whooping cough reflect that of a common cold; so, a doctor would better diagnose a patient since the symptoms are unclear. These symptoms include “runny nose, sneezing, mild cough, low-grade fever.” (WebMD) A couple weeks after the diagnosis, the dryness in the cough will turn into minutes of coughing, known as coughing spells. Because of the intensity of the cough, vomit may occur; however, people tend to feel better after these spells. The way in which infants and adults react are completely opposite. Since infant’s bodies haven’t reached a certain level of maturity, they might quit breathing for seconds if it gets that bad. In comparison, adults and teens may cough a little longer than usual, normally lacking the “whoop.” This mainly occurs in younger children; however, it is not uncommon among teens and adults. Likewise, there are babies and younger children who do not have coughing spells or scenarios of vomit.
The main reason why I chose the whooping cough was because it is the reason why my grandmother lost three of her children before the age of 3, in Iran. Back then, the medicine was
This recent increase is said to be due to the United States’ switch to acellular vaccine, instead of the original pertussis vaccine (this will be discussed later).
not accessible in Abadan, Iran. There was a severe outbreak of whooping cough, and as a result many people died, children more than adults. As a matter of fact, nobody knew the exact reason as to why these children, it seemed the younger they were, died so often. It wasn’t until news of vaccines from the United States broke, and less fortunate countries came to understand what this cough truly was. Outbreaks within the United States are also prevalent, despite the advancement of vaccines. For example, in 2012, “A spike… sickened 48,277 Americans, and 20 died” (Rabin) reflecting numbers generated in the 1950s. Deaths occurred in the next two years following that outbreak, 13 and 14 respectively. Outbreaks of the whooping cough have been reported across the country, from California to Kansas, and affect people old and young, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. It will get as bad as students being contagious enough not to attend school. Often times, entire schools will close if it is suspected a student has the whooping cough in times of an outbreak.
Around 1920, when diphtheria was prevalent, the first “toxoid” was created. Similarly, the first “tetanus toxoid” was produced in 1924. These two came together to produce the first Pertussis vaccine. Pertussis vaccines started to appear around the 30s, however it took a few years for its use to spread. The first Pertussis vaccines proved quite effective, however it came with a cost. As a vaccine made a promising introduction in the 40s, the amount of cases declined substantially, “approximately 200,000 a year in the pre-vaccine era to a low of 1,010 cases in 1976.” (NFID) Adolescents who were given the vaccine developed a plethora of reactions and side effects as a result. Finally, an initiative was taken and in 1991, acellular vaccines were given in attempt to lessen the reactions from the side effects. Eventually, these new vaccines will take over and become the default choice. 16 years later, the development of newer medicine allowed
children and adults to receive the same vaccine. This new vaccine became the first to do so, as well as the first to integrate different vaccines into one. These vaccines cannot replicate, which is why more than one dosage is required in order to preserve the immunity. For babies, the shot is given in the thigh. However, for adolescents (7+) and adults, it is given in the deltoid. A few organizations that condone the use of this vaccine are The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Redness, swelling and fever around the spot of injection is still common among both adults and kids; however, it has diminished since the advancement of the medicine. If more than the recommended dosage of the vaccines is taken, swelling may occur, as well as an increase in the original side effects that take place.
The whooping cough proves to be an interesting disease, from its causation from the bacteria Bordetella pertussis, to its inconsistent prevalence in the United States, to the advancement of vaccination. Learning about the history, causes, symptoms and vaccines of the whooping cough helped my understanding in the complexity of diseases and all of the science that goes into it. Many of the information seems unbelievable, but after viewing statistics over the course of Pertussis prevalence in the United States, I understood how real it is. Despite the ongoing advancement of vaccines and treatment surrounding the whooping cough, there will always be instances where a breakout will occur, and people, vaccinated or not, will be at risk of obtaining the disease. As the whooping cough vaccines innovate, scientists must be careful in ensuring that the chances of side effects and reactions are as minimal as possible, since we’ve observed cases in history that exhibit increases in local reactions, despite higher effective rates. Once more, the reason why I chose this disease is because it ruined my grandmother’s life, and
something as simple as a cough seems ridiculous to do so. This project opened my eyes up to the dangers of the whooping cough and all of the details that surround it.