Whooping Cough (Pertussis) - Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) - Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention
Published on Feb 10, 2020



Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a serious respiratory condition caused by a type of bacteria referred to as Bordetella pertussis. The infection leads to intense, uncontrollable coughing that can make it difficult to breathe.

While whooping cough can affect people at any age, it can be lethal for babies and younger children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), before a vaccine was available, whooping cough was once a main cause of childhood deaths in the United States. The CDC reports that all the number of cases of pertussis in 2016 was just below 18,000, with 7 deaths reported.

Whooping Cough Symptoms

The incubation period (the time between initial infection and the onset of signs) for whooping cough is about 5 to 10 days, however symptoms may now not appear for as long as 3 weeks, according to the CDC.

Early signs emulate the common cold and include a runny nose, cough, and fever. Within two weeks, a dry and consistent cough may develop that makes respiration very difficult.

Children frequently make a “whoop” sound when they try to take a breath after coughing spells, although this classic sound is less common in infants.

This type of extreme cough can also cause:


Blue or purple skin around the mouth


Low-grade fever

Breathing difficulties

Teens and adults normally experience milder symptoms, such as a prolonged cough without the “whoop” sound.

Diagnosing and treating whooping cough

If you or your baby experiences signs of whooping cough, seek for medical attention right away, especially if your family members haven’t been immunized.

Whooping cough is very contagious — bacteria may become airborne when an person coughs, sneezes, or laughs — and can rapidly spread to others.


To diagnose whooping cough, your doctor will carry out a physical exam and take samples of mucus in the nostril and throat. These samples will now be tested for the presence of the B. pertussis bacteria. A blood test may also be essential to make an accurate diagnosis.


Many babies and some young children will need to be hospitalized during medication, for observation and respiratory support. Some might need intravenous (IV) fluids for dehydration if signs prevent them from drinking sufficient fluids.

Since whooping cough is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are the basic course of treatment. Antibiotics are very effective in the early stages of whooping cough. They can also be used in the late stages of the infection to stop it from spreading to others.

While antibiotics can help treat the infection, they don’t stop or treat the cough itself.

However, cough drugs aren’t recommended — they have no effect on whooping cough signs and may have harmful side effects on infants and small children.

Many doctors would recommend using humidifiers in the child’s bedroom to keep air moist and help reduce signs and symptoms of whooping cough.

Possible complications

Infants with whooping cough would require close monitoring to avoid potentially unsafe complications due to lack of oxygen. Serious complications include:

Brain damage



Bleeding in the brain

Apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)

Convulsions (uncontrollable, speedy shaking)


If your baby experiences symptoms of infection, kindly call your doctor immediately.

Adults and teenagers can experience complication as well, including:

Difficulty sleeping

Urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control)


Rib fracture

Long-term outlook

Symptoms of whooping cough can last up to four weeks or more, even during treatment. Children and adults usually get better rapidly with early medical intervention.

Infants are at the greater risk of whooping cough-related deaths, even after starting treatment.

Parents should monitor children carefully. If symptoms persist or get worse, contact your medical doctor right away.

Whooping cough prevention

Vaccination is the best key to prevention. The CDC recommends vaccination for babies at:

2 months

4 months

6 months

Booster shots are required for children at:

15 to 18 months

4 to 6 years and also at 11 years old

Young people aren’t the only ones vulnerable to whooping cough. Talk to the doctor about getting vaccinated if you:

work with, visit, or care for babies and children

are more than the age of 65

work in the healthcare Industry

DisclaimerThe information provided herein is for patient general knowledge only and should not be used during any medical emergency, for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Duplication for personal and commercial use must be authorized in writing by

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