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Whooping Cough Treatment in Adults

Updated on April 2, 2011

 What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough or pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the upper respiratory system. The infection causes irritation in breathing passages, resulting in severe coughing spells.  The illness has three distinct stages and can last months. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is caused by infection with the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. The infection is spread through the air by droplets from the breath of an infected person. The incubation period is usually 7 days.

Adults who do not require hospitalization, here are some tips to manage the disease at home after a doctor has diagnosed whooping cough.

  • Isolate the person (separate bedroom) until he or she has received five days of antibiotics. During this time, everyone who comes into contact with the sick person should wear a surgical mask to cover their face
  • Drink plenty of fluids, including water, juices, soups, and eat fruits to prevent dehydration.
  • Eat small, frequent meal to decrease the amount of vomitting.


Whooping cough treatment in adults
Whooping cough treatment in adults

Whooping cough symptoms in adults:

 Symptoms of pertussis or whooping cough occur in three stages:

1. During the first stage, symptoms are similar to a cold: slight fever, sneezing, runny nose, dry cough, loss of appetite, and irritability.

2. During the second stage (about 1 to 2 weeks later), the cough becomes more intense. There may be short, intense coughing spells followed by a long gasp for air.The coughing fits may be followed by vomiting, nose bleeds, or bluish color to the face.

3. During the third stage, the cough is less intense and less frequent, and appetite begins to increase. Eventually the cough stops, although this may take several months.

Other complications of the disease include pneumonia, encephalitis, and secondary bacterial superinfection.

How is pertussis spread?

Pertussis is spread by contact with nose or throat secretions from an infected person. This can happen when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Whooping cough vaccines
Whooping cough vaccines

Treatment of whooping cough in adults:

Adolescents and adults should also receive one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine to provide further protection against pertussis. It is particularly important that anyone having contact with an infant be fully vaccinated with the appropriate pertussis vaccine for their age. Ask your health care provider for more details.

The childhood vaccine for pertussis is usually given in combination with diphtheria and tetanus.Before age 7, children should get 5 doses of the DTP or DTaP vaccine. These are usually given at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age and 4 - 6 years of age.

Appropriate antibiotic therapy, given in the early stages of infection, may prevent or lessen the severity of symptoms. All household members and other close contacts of persons with pertussis should receive antibiotic treatment to prevent transmission of the disease.


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