Parents be alert: Whooping cough cases on the rise

Cai Wenjun
Whooping cough has been on the rise not only overseas but also in China, with the Chinese CDC reporting 32,380 cases nationwide in the first two months of the year and 13 deaths.
Cai Wenjun

Whooping cough has been on the rise not only overseas but also in China recently, with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 32,380 cases nationwide in the first two months of the year as well as 13 deaths. The case number is nearly 23 times of the January-February period last year, when no deaths were reported.

The situation is just as grim in Shanghai. The city reported 423 and 668 cases of whooping cough in January and February, respectively, making it one of top five infectious diseases with the highest number of cases. In contrast, no cases were reported at the same time last year.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

It spreads easily from person to person mainly through droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. The disease is most dangerous in infants, and is a significant cause of disease and death in this age group, according to the World Health Organization.

The first symptoms generally appear seven to ten days after infection. They include a mild fever, runny nose and cough, which in typical cases gradually develops into a hacking cough followed by whooping (hence the common name of whooping cough). Pneumonia is a relatively common complication.

Many child patients have coughing spells that last four to eight weeks. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection.

Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease. Now it primarily affects children too young to have received the full course of vaccinations and teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded. Adolescents and adults usually don't have serious symptoms that afflict infants and don't develop the characteristic whoop. Sometimes, a persistent hacking cough is the only sign of whooping cough.

Parents be alert: Whooping cough cases on the rise
Ti Gong

A child with cough is checked by a medic at Shanghai United Family Hospital.

Doctors from Shanghai United Family Hospital said that its children's health center has received one third more children with cough recently while there are also adult patients with cough every day.

The chief of the center suggested that parents should be alert if their kids develop serious cough and it becomes more severe at night, or if they turn red or blue while coughing and have it for a long duration (at least two weeks). It is better to take the children for diagnosis and treatment in time.

Clinical diagnosis is done for children with typical symptoms, while polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is needed if the patient is suspected to have whooping cough, doctors said.

Parents be alert: Whooping cough cases on the rise
Ti Gong

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for whooping cough is available.

Vaccination is the most important and effective measure for whooping cough prevention and control. China's inoculation plan is a triple vaccine targeting whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus for children at the age of 3 months, 4 months, 5 months and 18 months.

However, immunity usually starts to drop in three or five years and vanishes after 12 years.

Currently, the vaccine is only available for children below 7 years old. Adolescents and adults have no access to whooping cough vaccine in China, an issue that has caught the attention of medical experts.

Dr Zhang Guoliang from Shanghai 10th People's Hospital said whooping cough is mainly prevalent among children below 2 years old, but "there is a rising tendency among students aged between 7 and 15 and adults in recent years."

The dropping immunity effects of the vaccine, change in bacteria, advanced testing technologies and some patients' misdiagnosis due to atypical symptoms all contribute to the rise in whooping cough.

Doctors suggest that maintaining good personal hygiene, avoiding crowded places, having a healthy lifestyle and visiting the doctor when symptoms surface are useful tips to prevent and control whooping cough.

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