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Whooping Cough In Adults And How To Treat It

Updated on August 28, 2012

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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