Whooping cough (pertussis) is not a typical childhood disease like measles or mumps. Eight out of ten whooping cough patients are over the age of 18, and one in three is over the age of 45. But very few of those affected know that they have whooping cough at all. The disease manifests itself in adults completely different than in children and is therefore often confused with other respiratory diseases.
Whooping cough: Symptoms - even in adults
While small patients suffer from severe cough attacks accompanied by shortness of breath at night, wheezing and sometimes vomiting, there is no wheezing and vomiting in adults.
The only indication of whooping cough in adult age is often a bad cough that lasts several weeks. Sometimes, sufferers also complain of scratching the throat or sweating. No wonder that few people think of whooping cough in these symptoms.
However, experts recommend that you always be alert when stubborn coughing and at least perturbing whooping cough. "In case of long-lasting cough and especially nocturnal cough attacks in adults should always be thought of whooping cough, " says Professor Christel Hulte from the State Office of Health and Social Affairs Mecklenburg-Vorpommern from Rostock.
Whooping cough is more common in adults than thought
Together with German and American colleagues, Ms Hülsse has studied the incidence of whooping cough in adults. The researchers evaluated the data from 809 patients over the age of 18, who had consulted a doctor for coughing. The amazing result of the study: one in ten patients who had been coughing for more than seven days actually had whooping cough. The disease is therefore much more common in adults than previously thought.
Complications of whooping cough
In adults, whooping cough is generally milder than in children and is not life threatening. But even in adult age, the disease is by no means harmless. Every fourth person has complications:
- For example, whooping cough may cause weight loss, less commonly pneumonia, seizures and brain bleeding.
- Sometimes, adults with whooping cough can not hold their urine and become incontinent.
- Sometimes the coughing fits are so strong that it comes to ribs and hernias or herniated discs.
- Sudden hearing loss or damage to blood vessels is also possible.
High costs due to whooping cough
All this is not only bad for those affected, but also costs a lot of money. The persistent coughing often leads to job losses. Another cost factor: In doctors' surgeries, complex examinations, such as bronchoscopy, are often performed until the diagnosis of whooping cough is finally diagnosed. All in all, the treatment of a single whooping cough patient devours at least 540 euros.
Whooping cough is contagious
Whooping cough is triggered in children as well as adults by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. That's why the disease is called pertussis. In the microscope, the Bordetellen look rather harmless - small, immovable sticks, which are surrounded by a mucous envelope. But the little things have it all: they stick with their sticky surface to the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. There they multiply and release toxins, which then trigger the actual illness.
By coughing, sneezing or breathing air (droplet infection) the pathogen is carried on from person to person. Bordetella are highly contagious. Seventy to eighty percent of people who come into contact with the pathogen for the first time and are not protected by a vaccine become infected and suffer from whooping cough.
Infected adults - danger to infants
Of particular concern is the fact that adults who spend weeks coughing can pass on their pathogens to infants with whom they have contact. The big problem: Unlike adults, pertussis is a really threatening disease for infants. For very young children who do not yet have vaccination against whooping cough, the disease can cause respiratory arrest and permanent damage, or even death.
Most adults are unaware of the danger they pose to babies and toddlers in their environment - simply because they never dream of concealing a whooping cough behind their stubborn cough. And yet it is bitter reality: adults with pertussis are the main source of infection for young children. 50 to 70 percent of ill infants are infected by their parents or grandparents.
Vaccination for infants
Particularly at risk are infants who were not vaccinated against pertussis in the first year of life in accordance with the recommendations of the Standing Vaccination Commission at the Robert Koch Institute (STIKO). But regularly vaccinated infants have full vaccine protection against whooping cough only after the fourth partial vaccination - so at the earliest from the eleventh month of life. Before that, they are at the mercy of the dangerous Bordetellen.