With the arrival of colder weather, the appearance of various respiratory infections such as the flu and the common cold is inevitable, and the coronavirus infection has already become a common occurrence. When many thought that with the end of the pandemic we could breathe a sigh of relief, numerous cases of a disease appeared that many did not count on, namely whooping cough. The public did not expect that large of a number of cases since there has not been such an increase in the number of infected people in the last several dozen years. The question of how to protect yourself is being presented, but fortunately our healthcare system is doing everything to bring the disease under control.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough (lat. pertussis) is a disease long known to the world and it is caused by a bacterium that was discovered over a hundred years ago, Bordetella pertussis. It is a small and immobile microorganism that causes damage to ciliated cells of the respiratory system with the use of its pertussis toxin which leads to symptoms of the first stage of the disease called the catarrhal stage – cough, runny nose, expectoration of mucus and low-grade fever. Therefore, the symptoms closely resemble those of the common cold so it is not surprising that they are often disregarded at this stage.

The second stage is characterized by an intense and uncontrollable cough called paroxysmal cough, after which this stage was named. The cough is often so violent that it can also cause vomiting which could lead to dehydration in children since they have a small reserve volume of fluid. The coughing fits are most frequent at night and are accompanied by a strong, deep and loud inhalation reminiscent of a donkey braying or crowing, which is why this disease is colloquially called donkey cough or whooping cough. In the final, convalescent stage, the patient’s condition gradually improves, that is, the cough becomes less intense and frequent.

How to protect oneself?

This disease is transmitted by droplets and is extremely contagious, and the key to the transmission of this bacterium is social distancing, which is quite inadequate in schools and kindergartens. Therefore, children are often the target of this disease, as well as all their household members. The treatment of the disease most often includes antibiotics, which are inhibitors of bacterial protein synthesis, for example azithromycin in children and adults and erythromycin and clarithromycin in infants and newborns.

Since most bacterial infections are now under control, in addition to treatment with antibiotics, prevention of infectionwith this bacterium is also possible. Naturally, the oldest method of protection is isolation and avoiding contact with potential germ carriers, which in this case would be mostly children. Young children should be protected first and foremost, but also infants and pregnant women in the last month of pregnancy. When in contact with an infected person, it is necessary to check the vaccination status of the contacts and administer a vaccine if needed.

The pertussis vaccine is part of the immunization schedule and is combined, that is, it protects against several diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP or Tdap). The first dose is administered in infancy and it is part of the primary series of vaccinations, which consists of a total of three doses. The aforementioned vaccination is carried out during childhood and adolescence in order to keep the level of immune response to whooping cough satisfactory. Adults also have the option of receiving a booster dose of the vaccine, especially if they are in contact with children or are part of medical staff. It is also interesting that vaccination is recommended for pregnant women because this will create antibodies against whooping cough and this immunity will be transferred to newborns which will keep them safe the first few months of life.

Let’s take care of each other!

However, the biggest issue with vaccination is its postponement for several years, which leads to a large drop in vaccination rates and allows any disease, including whooping cough, to circulate in the population to a greater extent. Therefore, such a sudden increase in the number of infected people is not surprising and what we can all do is take the most effective protection by vaccination and thus protect the most vulnerable from this disease.

Translated by: Nina Šlopar



1. Hripavac (pertusis) [Whopping cough (pertussis)], 2023., https://www.plivazdravlje.hr, accessed on 22. 11. 2023.

2. Hripavac (Pertussis) [Whopping cough (pertussis)], 2023., https://www.zzjzdnz.hr, accessed on 24. 11. 2023.

3. Hripavac – koliko je opasan i kako se zaštititi? [Whopping cough- how dangerous is it and how to protect yourself?], 2023. https://www.zdravobudi.hr , accessed on 23. 11. 2023.

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