I heard third hand that my daughter was exposed to whooping cough (pertussis). She was at a playgroup with a vaccinated child who was diagnosed with the highly contagious infection a few days later.
I was totally unprepared for what was to come because my daughter is also vaccinated against pertussis.
Here are six things to consider if this happens to you.
1. Whooping Cough Symptoms Might Seem Like a Cold
The child had a very mild cough that the mother dismissed as a common cold. A well exam and test revealed that it was indeed whooping cough. If this mother missed it, then it’s likely that I could. I called the doctor to ask what symptoms I should be looking for.
If a child is vaccinated and contracts whooping cough, they may not cough with the “whoop” that is characteristic of the virus.
It might be a very mild cough with no fever, similar to what you might have with a common cold.
2. Whooping Couth Exposure Equals an Immediate Doctor Visit
Because of the close contact my daughter had with this child, the doctor requested that I bring her in immediately for testing. This sounded harmless to me so I agreed.
We had plans for Labor Day weekend and if for some reason she tested positive, then it was obviously better to stay home.
However, I should have paid more attention to the urgency in the nurse’s voice when I scheduled the visit. She demanded that my daughter not come into contact with anyone whatsoever prior to the appointment.
The poor girl even stood awkwardly in the middle of the sick waiting room under instruction not to touch a single chair or toy.
3. The Whooping Cough Test
The doctor took a long, skinny Q-Tip and shoved it up (it looked like it was pretty far up there) both nostrils to gather samples.
Tears and panic erupted. It looked pretty uncomfortable.
After that, my daughter coughed (possibly from having the test) and with lightning speed, we were prescribed antibiotics and put in quarantine.
We were told that even if she hadn’t coughed, the result would have been the same because San Diego County is having a difficult time controlling the outbreak.
I can’t find this in writing anywhere, but I was told that the County is mandating exposed children to be treated immediately as if they have whooping cough.
4. Whooping Cough Quarantine and Medication
We were prescribed a “Z Pak” of Azithromycin which is generic for Zithromax.
The medicine is a pink liquid, so I assumed that I could hide it in some strawberry ice cream or similar and get it down. My daughter is terrible at taking medication.
The taste is so bitter and strong that there is no way it could be hidden in food. In fact, despite me warning my daughter it was going to taste horrible, she threw up the entire first dose. She managed to get the rest down okay with bribery.
We were in quarantine for 5 long days, until her course of antibiotics was complete. I was expecting to get the whooping cough test results on the 4th or 5th day. The results came in on the 6th day.
Nothing would have changed for my daughter if her test was positive, because the Z Pak would have been finished.
However, a positive result would have meant that our entire family would begin immediate treatment for whooping cough.
We’d all probably would have been quarantined for another 5 days. Her test result was negative, so luckily we didn’t have to find out.
5. Why Whooping Cough Is on the Rise
Our pediatrician said that it’s a combination of three things.
First, the vaccine itself is not 100% effective. I’ve read online that different studies show it’s anywhere from 80-95% effective.
Secondly, it’s because some parents did not vaccinate by choice, likely due to a speculated link between vaccines and autism.
Lastly, as I’ve already mentioned, it can be difficult to identify whooping cough in a vaccinated child.
6. How to Get the Whooping Cough Vaccine
Whooping cough cases are on the rise in San Diego and many other parts of the country.
If you do not have insurance and would like the pertussis vaccine, you may go to one of the County of San Diego Clinics to receive free or low-cost vaccines. People with insurance are encouraged to see their primary care physicians.
I admit that I took a few hours to think about what I was going to do, prior to picking up the Z Pak at the pharmacy. I was not convinced that my daughter had whooping cough and am not a fan of administering antibiotics unless necessary.
My initial thought was to quarantine our family until the test results came back and if they were positive, to then proceed with the antibiotics and stay in quarantine (which by then be almost two weeks and overlap her first week of school).
After speaking with my husband, we decided that if it is a County requirement, we should proceed as directed since she was exposed to whooping cough.
(I’m not a doctor so please consult yours.)