Whooping Cough In Adults And How To Treat It

Pertussis in Adults

The Chinese refer to pertussis as the cough of 100 days. This could not be more accurate! When an adult contracts a cold or a bronchitis-like illness that stretches beyond the 'norm', say 1-2 weeks, pertussis should be a diagnostic consideration.

Especially if one of the salient signs and symptoms of the illness is a paroxysmal cough that comes on suddenly and is relentless during these periods of coughing.

In children, you most often will hear the characteristic 'whoop' - however, in adults, you will not.

Photography Credit: Flickr rocknroll_guitar

The Facts on Bordatella Pertussis

Bordatella pertussis (or whooping cough by its common name) is a bacteria that infects the respiratory system and causes constriction and inflammation, thus causing the cough.

  • Pertussis is on the rise in the United States and it is estimated that somewhere between 1 and 3 million people per year contract it although many cases go undetected or unreported so the exact figures are not known
  • In 2005, the CDC reported 25,616 cases
  • Whereas it can be fatal in infants and young children because of associated complications, in adults it can be present without being detected at first because the symptoms are similar to bronchitis and/or a very bad cold
  • By the time pertussis is discovered in adults, it is usually too late for antibiotics that might have helped if taken at the outset
  • Pertussis is most characterized by the paroxysmal unrelenting cough - this cough can lead to coughing fits that are so severe, the sufferer will vomit, find it hard to breathe, eat or even sleep
  • Most paroxysms of pertussis cough come on at night
  • Pertussis by way of the severe coughing fits can lead to urinary or fecal incontinence, cracked ribs and hernias
  • Bacterial pneumonia can also be caused by pertussis
  • Whooping cough can last not weeks but months - hence the Chinese terminology of the 'cough of 100 days'
  • Once you have pertussis as an adult, there is little to be done except symptomatic treatment but rarely does anything stop the cough
  • In adults with pertussis, there is traditionally no 'whoop' - people tend to think they have a very bad/lingering case of bronchitis
  • Paroxysms of cough are usually followed by tearing eyes, drooling, vomiting or inability to catch the breath

Prevention of Pertussis

Currently there are 2 vaccines that are being used but really only one is effective as treatment against whooping cough in adults over the age of 18.

ADACEL (sanofi pasteur) is an effective vaccine in persons 11 to 64 years of age while Boostrix (GlaxoSmithKline) is used on persons 10 to 18 years of age.

The recommendation is that all adults 19 to 64 years of age have a single Tdap booster (in place of the usual tetanus booster). This is recommended BEFORE the usual 10 year interval for a regular tetanus shot.

Luckily, the reactions to these vaccines are extremely rare and mostly involve only pain, swelling and redness at the injection site. Occasionally there have been reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome but these have occurred in persons receiving these pertussis vaccines shortly after receiving regular tetanus vaccines.

Adults at risk are people having close contact with infants younger than 12 months of age, childcare providers, and healthcare workers. However, since pertussis is an airborne pathogen, most everyone is at risk and as the video depicts, the offending organism can be spread by merely a cough.

Pregnant women after giving birth who are in birthing centers or hospitals are also at risk.

In children, as mentioned previously, the effects of pertussis can turn deadly, so treatment is essential. In adults, unfortunately, again, the symptoms are rarely picked up in time to receive appropriate antibiotics or treatment because there is no 'whoop'.

Adults and teens can also spread this deadly infection to infants who have not received all of their immunizations yet. Infants have the highest rate of pertussis complications and/or fatality due to the bacteria.

Summing It Up

While thankfully, pertussis is not usually associated with mortality in adults, it is definitely a very ongoing threat to the population as it is an easily spread pathogen. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and by receiving one of the above 2 vaccines, you can probably save yourself months of an aggravating and disabling respiratory process and reduce the spread of this bronchial infection.

Talk to your doctor about the availability and advisability of these 2 vaccines but I feel that ADACEL in adults is worth requesting. As well, it will reduce the spread of this potentially fatal respiratory to infants.

The copyright to this article is owned by Audrey Kirchner (akirchner). Permission to republish this article in print or on-line must be granted by the author in writing. (You can, however, freely use the opening introduction and photo with a link to the article here on HubPages to read the remainder of the article.)

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Comments 36 comments

whoopy 4 years ago

I got whooping cough in May its almost July still got the cough and 2cracked ribs and 1broken rib. Worst thing I've ever had. I'm 43 and never thought about getting whooping cough at my age. There needs to hemorrhage knowledge about adult whooping cough.

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akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Tricia and Marshall- Thanks for the read, and Tricia, I would have it checked out though it may be way past due since I just saw your comment. So sorry but I didn't get a notification - hope you are well!

Patricia - I agree TOTALLY. It was the worst ever - and lasted for months. I would be fine and then all of a sudden just go into coughing spasms to where I almost threw up, etc. It was nasty. Hoping that you get treatment and you will be over it soon! No fun indeed.

Patricia Graham 5 years ago

Hi, I suddenly became ill in early Feb. with pneumonia and went on antibiotics. Three weeks later, I had a terrible cough that would not go away. I would cough so hard, I couldn't catch my breath and I had the characteristic "whoop." I went to a pulmonologist who did blood work and found I had a very high titer to pertussis. It is now the middle of June and I am still not over it. The dr. states that I may have the symptoms for up to a year. I also have allergies which makes matters worse. I am using inhalers daily but the cough will not go away. The weird feeling in the throat is very uncomfortable. I would not wish this on anyone!

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akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Hey Michele - I would just keep on checking with your doc but my bout with this lasted at least 3 months! It was horrible!

michele 5 years ago

Hi on dec 26 I had a baby girl and 5 days later I tested positive for the whooping cough. It is now march and I'm still feeling the effects of it. I have this weird feeling in my throat and its very uncomfortable. I've gone to and ent and they r now treating me for acid reflux deisiese. I've read some stories on here and I was just wondering if anyone has had this feeling in their throat and how long did it last. Can someone plz help me thank you

Marshall Blackburn 6 years ago

Informative hub! Keep up the good work

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Tricia - I would go to the doc and have them say if you're 'crazy' or not but that's what I had - this cough that lasted FOREVER and it just came on at the weirdest times and totally spasming, etc. It took over 3 months for me to get rid of it and it was brutal. I'm not sure what the incubation period is either but I'd certainly go check it out! They can't give antibiotics past a certain point but they can give you a cough medicine that will help a bit!

Tricia 6 years ago

if I have whooping cough would it be inevitable that my husband and daughter would "catch" it from me? they were both very sick and now healthy. I am perfectly fine except this cough that when it starts it is out of control. I have no phlegm at all. My husband thinks I am crazy to think I could have this.

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

TurtleDog - Thanks so much for your insight to the hub. I currently have bronchitis and it is really hard to tell sometimes....but having the pertussis gig last year was totally different from bronchitis! But always best to check with your physician.

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TurtleDog 6 years ago

Great Hub akirchner! It seems yearly I suffer from a real bad, persistent cough that lasts for weeks, even months at a time. Never diagnosed with whooping cough but I often refer to it as "my" whooping cough. The symptoms you present give me confidence that Whooping cough is not my problem. That said, next time around I'll run it by the doc in case just to be sure. Thanks for the very, very detail wealth of information. Voted UP! useful... thanks

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Any time, Stormi!

Stormi 6 years ago

Thanks so much for your quick response. Will let you know if i try then! Thanks a ton x

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Hey Stormi - I would hesitate to say anything cures it but time but hey - anything you try probably wouldn't hurt eh? When I was a kid, I had bronchitis all the time pretty severely and my mom would always drive me from inland San Diego to the ocean beach about an hour away and it definitely helped because of the moisture. I'm not sure that steaming up the bathroom might have done the same thing but since I loved the ocean, it was all good! Let me know if you try some of those things and if they work!!! And wishing you good health and recovery from that aggravating malady!!

Stormi 6 years ago

Thanks for the reply! One more thing i have to know. I've heard going to the sea can cure whooping cough. Is this true?? Also need to know if going up in an aeroplane can help i've heard it changes the air pressure in your lungs or something and cures it. Could this be true? I value your opinion and love this hub. Thanks so much * stormi

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

I actually did get over mine, Stormi but it seemed like it went on FOREVER. I did find that the nasal sprays helped a bit after a while when the cough lingered and some over-the-counter cough medicine! Hope you feel better soon.

Stormi 6 years ago

Hi there firstly i love this hub- Thanks! I was informally diagnosed with this almost 4 months ago and it seems no better! For me its no longer only a 100 days! I have got numerous bouts of flu and have long term glandular fever which is like ME. Please please tell me will i ever be free of this? I relate to all the previously stated symptoms. I'm at the end of my wits! Please help.

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks D.Virtual.Doctor - we all can benefit from each other and thanks so much for the read!

D.Virtual.Doctor profile image

D.Virtual.Doctor 6 years ago from Europe

This is amazing. I just published a hub of Pneumonia, when this hub was shared on my page and of course it caught my attention. Its really informative and I very much appreciate reading it. You have given me an added material to ponder upon and do more research on it. Thanks once again.

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks ListLady for pointing that out - that certainly IS true! And I loved the Chinese name for it - I felt I certainly had it for 100 days!

TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 6 years ago from New York City

So many people have assumed that whooping cough no longer exists - nothing could me further from the truth. Thanks for this informative reminder. Interesting the name Chinese people have given it - so on point.

Nice to meet you too by the way!

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

I SO feel for you!!! I am almost 57 - and I had that earlier this year....it is said to last 100 days so has it been the 100 days yet? At the end of it, then it should go away. It almost took exactly that long for me to stop gagging and coughing. They did give me cough meds with codeine that I could take at night as I found it very hard to sleep at times. Inhalers, antibiotics even really don't help after you've got it (so they told me). I did drink loads of hot tea and used about a truckload of cough drops trying to suppress the cough though that did not help either! Steam helped 'a little' but actually, it just had to wear itself out I guess. THANKFULLY it went away!!! I really do feel for you - hope you feel better soon! I wished I'd lived by the ocean as I thought maybe the salt air might have helped but alas, I'm inland now so no mercy!

pgus 6 years ago

I'm 57 and had a cough for 2-3 week went to Dr.told him it was like the croup. He thought I had re-flux,but disagreed and ask him to check for pertussis and sure enough I had it. That was the end of Apr. and this is July and I'm still coughing after z-pak and a shot. When will this go away? Not as bad but still whoop sometimes. Any feedback is appreciated. An inhaler does not help either and yes the urinary incontinence will happen if you cough as hard as I did.

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Yes you can because it is so easily transmitted - if you watch the video that will scare you about half to death! That's why they think I had it instead of just 'ordinary bronchitis' - I couldn't stop gagging; what a horrid thing! There is a vaccine though - the Adacel and I'm going to be asking to get that instead of a tetanus booster!

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Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I think I get this every January. I was hospitalized in 2008 for this kind of cough. They never said or even suspected it was whooping cough. But I think it was. I absolutely could not stop coughing. I had to take serious doses of hydrocodone to sleep even a little bit and I had to sleep sitting up.

Now, every January when the pollen count rises for cedar in this area, I get "cedar fever" which is mostly a horrible cough. Can you get whooping cough more than once?

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

You are too sweet as always, Darlene....thanks for commenting. I'm not sure how I can make pertussis sound good but since my doc thinks I have it, I thought what the heck!

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Thank you my dear Akirchner, I love this hub, it is very detailed and easy to follow, of course I love to read all your hubs, your fan Darlene

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

I know - it all seems so frightening sometimes but I think I'm going to ask for the ADACEL shot instead of a pure tetanus shot. It might have helped - but as you say - these days, who knows? Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

I remember hearing about whooping cough when I was a child - and perhaps we thought it was gone because of the different name - but yes, so many cough and cough and cough. We have to find the causes and they probably number far more than when I was a child. Sigh!

It doesn't end - and thanks for keeping us so well-informed.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

I know! And what's more you can see how someone would get it EASILY if you watch the video - made me start coughing all over again....thanks for commenting, Holle.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Wow - I didn't even know this stuff was still around! Great info!

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Think so - at least that's my nephro guy said....that would explain the all of a sudden attacks and then asbolutely dying of the coughing. My sides and stomach are still so sore it is ridiculous - but alas, it has only been a month so I'm worried I have all those other days to go! Ah well, what else would I be doing? Thanks so much for good wishes and for commenting!

theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

OH my goodness! Is this what you've had all this time that you couldn't quite shake? Brutal!!! Hope you kick the cough soon!

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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Thanks, Sage - yes, whoop, whoop. I've had bronchitis all my life and always gotten over it quite nicely. Definitely not smoking does help but this has just been ridiculous! Thanks so much for reading.

Sage Williams profile image

Sage Williams 6 years ago

Oh I do hope you get better soon, a cough of 100 days can be quite frustrating. I also was not aware of the whooping cough in adults.

When I used to smoke, I always had bronchitis and it took forever to get rid of it. I do hope you feel better soon!

Great job on this hub,


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Coincidentally, my nephrologist thinks that is what I have! Since I still have the cough that wouldn't leave and it's going on one full month...oy vey - the Chinese were right on - the cough of 100 days....one of these days I'll quit sounding like I'm a cat coughing up a hair ball! Thanks for visiting.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, Audrey, I had never heard of this. My son had whooping cough when he was a baby, and he ended up in an special 'tent' in the hospital, with oxygen being pumped in. it was a nightmare! This should be more well known, thanks for bringing it to our attention. Nell

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