Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a life-threatening disease causing coughing spasms and inflammation in the nose and throat. Infants are at the highest risk of dying from pertussis although older people can also be infected.
For many years it was a global problem and global cause of sickness, disability and childhood death. Vaccination has made it much generally less common around the world being more common in the lower income countries, yet outbreaks still also occur in the developed world.
However, some fatal cases in infants are still reported in Europe and campaigners warn against complacency in being fully vaccinated against pertussis.
The groups most at risk in Europe are those too young to have been fully vaccinated or those who have not been vaccinated at all. Children, adolescents and adults who have not had regular booster vaccinations are also at risk, and while whooping cough tends not to be fatal in these groups; it can have a great impact on thier daily life and is highly contagious for others they may come in contact with.
What causes pertussis?
Pertussis is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. It is a highly contagious respiratory infection spread by contact with people in the coughing phase of the disease.
What are the complications of pertussis?
The characteristic severe coughing spasms, that sometimes last for months, can cause conjunctivitis, nose bleeds, hernias, and collapsed lungs. Some patients suffer secondary respiratory bacterial infections such as pneumonia.
The vast majority of deaths associated with pertussis occur in infants aged less than a year.