MythBuster Monday: Whooping Cough


Whooping Cough is a thing of the past.


Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is still a problem. Rapid, repeated coughing pulls all the air out of the Lungs can bring about serious complications and can even be fatal. This infectious illness is showing up in teens and adults who aren't immunized as children, or whose immunity has worn off. Get yourself and your children vaccinated on scheduled.


Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an upper respiratory infection. It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It is a serious disease that can affect people of any age and cause permanent disability in infants, and even death.

When an infected person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets containing the bacteria move through the air. The disease is easily spread from person to person.

The infection often lasts 6 weeks, but it can last as long as 10 weeks.


Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold. In most cases, they develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria.

Severe episodes of coughing start about 10 to 12 days later. In infants and young children, the coughing sometimes ends with a "whoop" noise. The sound is produced when the person tries to take a breath. The whoop noise is rare in infants under 6 months of age and in older children or adults.

Coughing spells may lead to vomiting or a short loss of consciousness. Pertussis should always be considered when vomiting occurs with coughing. In infants, choking spells and long pauses in breathing are common.

Other pertussis symptoms include:

Exams & Tests

The initial diagnosis is most often based on the symptoms. However, when the symptoms are not obvious, pertussis may be hard to diagnose. In very young infants, the symptoms may be caused by pneumonia instead.

To know for sure, the health care provider may take a sample of mucus from the nasal secretions. The sample is sent to a lab and tested for pertussis. While this can offer an accurate diagnosis, the test takes some time. Most of the time, treatment is started before the results are ready.

Some people may have a complete blood count that shows large numbers of lymphocytes.


If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away more quickly. Unfortunately, most people are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren't very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the person's ability to spread the disease to others.

Infants younger than 18 months need constant supervision because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Infants with severe cases should be hospitalized.

An oxygen tent with high humidity may be used.

Fluids may be given through a vein if coughing spells are severe enough to prevent the person from drinking enough fluids.

Sedatives (medicines to make you sleepy) may be prescribed for young children.

Cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are most often not helpful. These medicines should NOT be used.