Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Chinese Whooping Cough outbreak: Signs and taking preventive actions

A severe and very contagious form of cough, whooping cough is becoming more common in China, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. 

In China, reports of whooping cough cases during January and February 2024 totalled almost 32,000, a 20-fold increase over the same period the previous year.

This fatal virus, which is more prevalent in children and new-borns, may give rise to concerns in the days ahead.

The National Disease Control and Prevention Administration announced that thirteen deaths had been reported in China in the first two months of 2024.

What is whooping Cough?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It primarily affects the airways and can lead to severe coughing fits characterized by a distinctive “whooping” sound as the affected individual gasps for breath after coughing. This sound is more common in children but may not always be present in adults.

Pertussis can be particularly dangerous for infants and young children, often causing complications such as pneumonia, seizures, and even death in severe cases.

Vaccination is the primary method of prevention against whooping cough.


Whooping cough typically progresses through several stages, each characterized by different symptoms. Here’s an overview:

  1. Incubation Stage: This is the period after exposure to the bacteria before symptoms appear, usually lasting about 7 to 10 days, but can range from 4 to 21 days.
  2. Catarrhal Stage: This stage typically lasts 1 to 2 weeks and is characterized by symptoms similar to those of the common cold, including:
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Mild cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sometimes, symptoms may be so mild that they go unnoticed.
  1. Paroxysmal Stage: This stage is marked by severe and frequent coughing fits. The cough becomes more severe and may develop a characteristic “whoop” sound as the person struggles to breathe in after a coughing episode. Symptoms include:
  • Intense coughing spells, often ending with a “whoop” sound or vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing between coughing fits.
  • Exhaustion after coughing episodes.
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin) due to lack of oxygen during coughing fits.
  1. Convalescent Stage: This stage can last for several weeks and is characterized by a gradual decrease in the frequency and severity of coughing fits. However, coughing may persist for months in some cases.

It’s important to note that the severity and duration of each stage can vary among individuals, and some people, particularly infants, may not exhibit the characteristic “whoop” sound. Additionally, complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, seizures, and dehydration can occur, especially in young children.


The treatment methods for whooping cough typically involve a combination of medical interventions and supportive care.

Here’s a detailed overview:

  1. Antibiotics: Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat whooping cough, particularly in the early stages of the illness. The primary goal of antibiotics is to eradicate the Bordetella pertussis bacteria from the body, reducing the severity and duration of symptoms and preventing the spread of the disease to others. Macrolide antibiotics such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, or erythromycin are often used for this purpose. Treatment is most effective when started early, preferably during the catarrhal stage or early in the paroxysmal stage.
  2. Supportive Care: Supportive care aims to alleviate symptoms and improve comfort, particularly during coughing fits. This may include:
  • Ensuring adequate hydration by encouraging fluids intake.
  • Providing small, frequent meals to prevent vomiting during coughing spells.
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier to soothe the airways and ease breathing.
  • Maintaining a calm and quiet environment to reduce the likelihood of triggering coughing fits.
  • Using over-the-counter cough suppressants or expectorants under medical guidance.
  1. Prevention of Complications: Monitoring for and managing any complications that may arise is essential, particularly in vulnerable populations such as infants and young children. Complications may include pneumonia, dehydration, seizures, and respiratory failure.
  2. Vaccination: Vaccination remains the most effective method for preventing whooping cough. Ensuring that individuals receive the recommended doses of the pertussis vaccine as part of routine childhood immunization schedules is crucial. Booster doses may also be recommended for adolescents and adults to maintain immunity.
  3. Isolation and Quarantine: Infected individuals should be isolated to prevent the spread of the bacteria to others, particularly to those who are unvaccinated or at high risk of complications, such as infants and pregnant women.
  4. Close Monitoring: Close monitoring of the patient’s symptoms, especially respiratory status, is essential throughout the course of the illness. Any worsening of symptoms or signs of complications should prompt immediate medical attention.

Overall, early diagnosis, prompt initiation of antibiotic treatment, supportive care, vaccination, and prevention of transmission are key components of managing whooping cough effectively.

By Parvathy Sukumaran

Parvathy Sukumaran is a Content Creator and Editor at JustCare Health. She is an Educator and a Language Lecturer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Education and an M.A in English Literature. She is passionate about writing, archaeology, music and cooking.

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