Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Symptoms ,Treatment and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates about 20,000 people get whooping cough each year, most of them children. This serious illness can cause death or permanent disability in infants and once was a feared childhood disease. Luckily, vaccines can prevent whooping cough. Let’s look at what whooping cough is, how to prevent it and what to do if your child gets it.


The medical term for whooping cough is ‘pertussis.’ It is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium. The disease causes violent, uncontrollable coughing episodes. It gets its common name, ‘whooping cough,’ from the sound of the characteristic wheezing inhalation that occurs after each cough.

Anyone, of any age, can get pertussis. In fact, now that higher percentages of children are immunized, whooping cough more often arises in teens and adults than in small children.


Exposure to the B. pertussis bacterium causes whooping cough. The bacterium travels through tiny water droplets in mucus and saliva. Whenever an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks, these droplets spray into the air. You can then breathe in the droplets and get the infection yourself if you have not be vaccinated.


Whooping cough starts out looking like a common cold, which makes getting an early diagnosis tricky. These cold-like symptoms may begin about a week after exposure to the B. pertussis bacterium. About 10 days later, the symptoms of full-blown pertussis may arise. These include:

  • Severe episodes of coughing
  • Characteristic ‘whoop’ sound after each cough, as the individual tries to inhale
  • Coughing so hard you vomit
  • Choking, especially in infants
  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe pain from frequent spasm of the diaphragm muscle

Note the ‘whooping’ sound often is absent in infants and adults with pertussis. Any infant or adult with violent coughing spells should be evaluated for whooping cough.


Whooping cough can be treated when detected early. Unfortunately, because early symptoms mimic those of a common cold, early detection doesn’t usually happen.

If caught in the early stages, whooping cough can be treated with the antibiotic erythromycin. This medication will not ‘cure’ whooping cough, but it may make symptoms less severe or shorten their duration. Sometimes, erythromycin is given to pertussis patients to reduce the chance of spreading the illness to others.

Other treatments may be ordered, depending on the age of the patient and severity of symptoms. For example, infants may be hospitalized to ensure round-the-clock monitoring by medical personnel. If a person with whooping cough cannot drink enough fluids, intravenous fluids may be given. Sometimes a humidified oxygen tent is ordered for people with whooping cough. Your healthcare provider will personalize treatment to the specific needs of the patient. Whooping cough symptoms usually last about six weeks.


The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated against it. Have your children vaccinated. The pertussis vaccine is contained in the TDaP immunization. TDaP stands for tetanus/diptheria/pertussis. The vaccine is sometimes called DTaP. These all are the same immunization. TDaP is a routine childhood immunization that should be given in five doses (shots), starting at age two months and ending around age six years. The vaccine requires boosting. It should be given again around age 12, and then once every ten years thereafter If you’re an adult and don’t know if you were vaccinated against whooping cough, you can get the immunization at any time. Check with your healthcare provider.


Some people believe childhood vaccinations may cause autism. This belief is not supported by scientific research. Whooping cough is a terrible disease that can cause your child to die. If your child becomes infected, he or she also can spread the illness to other un-vaccinated children. You should make sure your child receives the full complement of routine childhood vaccinations. This will keep him or her safe from unpleasant and possibly life-threatening disease like whooping cough.

Image Source : CDC