Chapter 13

Whooping Cough

The disease is not infrequently complicated by inflammation of the lungs, and the violent coughing which occurs is apt to produce a harmful dilation of the lung tissue itself. It is by no means uncommon in underfed children for the disease to be followed by tuberculosis of the lungs. Cases of paralysis complicating whooping cough have been reported, and changes in the eye due to hemorrhages into that organ produced by coughing have also been noted. It is thus seen that whooping cough, which is estimated killed over 10,000 American children in the year 1911, is a disease seriously affecting the public health and demanding earnest attention.

– Dr. W. C. Rucker, Assistant Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service, 1911

It may be questioned whether universal vaccination against pertussis is always justified, especially in view of the increasingly mild nature of the disease and of the very small mortality.

– Dr. Justus Ström, 1960

Most cases of whooping cough are relatively mild. Such cases are difficult to diagnose without a high index of suspicion because doctors are unlikely to hear the characteristic cough, which may be the only symptom. Parents can be reassured that a serious outcome is unlikely. Adults also get whooping cough, especially from their children, and get the same symptoms as children.

– Douglas Jenkinson, 1995



Because whooping cough was once a devastating disease in a large proportion of children, a campaign to develop a vaccine was under-taken, but not until after deaths had already fallen to historic lows in the 1940s. From its peak in the 1800s, whooping cough deaths had declined by more than 99 percent before a vaccine was in wide-spread use.

The national vaccination program began in the United States in the late 1940s and in England by 1957.

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