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Whooping Cough (Pertussis) - Topic Overview

In stage 3, you still have symptoms but you feel better and grow stronger.

  • The cough may get louder.
  • Coughing fits may happen off and on for weeks.
  • Coughing fits may flare up if you get a cold or have a similar illness.
  • This stage may last longer if you have never had the vaccine.

How is whooping cough diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He or she may order tests to rule out other health problems. Your doctor may ask if you have had the necessary shots.

It can sometimes be hard to diagnose whooping cough, because a person appears healthy between coughing episodes. Your doctor may take a sample of mucus from your nose or throat and have it tested for the bacteria that cause whooping cough.

How is it treated?

You may be given antibiotics. These make it less likely that you will spread the disease. If you start taking the antibiotics when you first get whooping cough, the disease may not last as long.

Young infants usually are treated for whooping cough in the hospital so the doctor can see how well the baby deals with and recovers from the coughing.

Over-the-counter medicines, such as cough syrups, have not been shown to help whooping cough. You can increase your comfort by using a humidifier and getting enough fluids.

Can whooping cough be prevented?

Immunizations can prevent whooping cough or reduce how bad it is. Children, starting at age 2 months, need a series of shots to protect against whooping cough. Children ages 11 and older and adults up to age 65 need one booster shot. This booster shot is also recommended for adults of any age who have or expect to have close contact with babies younger than 1 year old. Caregivers who never got the shots-and may not even know that they have the illness-can spread whooping cough to babies and to other people who aren't protected.

Washing your hands often and staying away from people who have a bad cough may help you avoid getting the disease.

If you get whooping cough, you can avoid spreading it by taking antibiotics and waiting the right amount of time before you and your children go back to school or work:

  • Children with whooping cough need to take antibiotics for at least 5 days before going back to day care or school. If your child did not take antibiotics, wait 21 days after the start of symptoms before sending your child to school or day care.1
  • Adults or teens who have whooping cough need to take antibiotics for at least 5 days before being near young children or going to work at a school, a day care center, or a health facility.1

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about whooping cough:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 18, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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