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Whooping Cough (Pertussis) - Topic Overview

What are the symptoms? continued...

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.

Adults and older children usually have milder symptoms than young children. How bad your symptoms are also depends on whether you've had the vaccine and how long ago it was.

Symptoms of whooping cough usually last 6 to 10 weeks, but they may last longer.

How is whooping cough diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. To rule out other health problems, he or she may order tests such as a chest X-ray or blood tests.

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

How is it treated?

Whooping cough is usually treated with antibiotics. These medicines make it less likely that you will spread the disease. Also, if you start taking the antibiotics when you first get whooping cough, the disease may not last as long. Family members and other close contacts may be prescribed antibiotics before they have any symptoms.1

Babies, especially those younger than 4 months, usually are treated in the hospital. This allows the doctor to see how well the baby deals with and recovers from coughing spells. It also makes it easier for the baby to get extra oxygen and other care if needed.

To avoid spreading the illness:1

  • Children with whooping cough need to take antibiotics for at least 5 days before going back to day care or school. If your child didn't take antibiotics, wait 21 days after the start of symptoms before sending your child to school or day care.
  • Adults or teens with 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.
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