Whooping cough affects adults too

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Whooping cough may be known as a childhood disease, but adults should be aware that they can contract the infection too, researchers say.

Whooping cough, known medically as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that causes uncontrollable attacks of coughing and breathlessness. Before a vaccine became available, whooping cough was a major, sometimes fatal childhood disease.

Outbreaks of whooping cough still occur but mainly among young children who have not yet completed their vaccination course and teenagers whose immunity has waned.

Adults, however, can also contract the infection. Based on the medical literature, 0.5 percent of all adults contract whooping cough each year, researchers report in the journal Deutsches Arzteblatt International.

And while the disease is most dangerous in infants and young children, one-quarter of adults who contract whooping cough have some type of complication — such as broken ribs or an abdominal hernia.

“If you look for adult pertussis, you find it in every country,” Dr. Carl Heinz Wirsing von Konig, the senior author on the report, told Reuters Health.

The problem is that the public and even most doctors — apart from pediatricians — think of whooping cough as a childhood disease only, said Wirsing von Konig, of the Helios Klinikum Krefeld in Germany.

Some clues that a cough might be pertussis include repeated coughing bouts that go on for more than week and sometimes cause breathlessness and choking. The classic sign of whooping cough is a coughing attack that ends with a high-pitched inhale, or “whoop” sound.  Continued…

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