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Key Information About Whooping Cough

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Also known as pertussis and 100 days' cough, whooping cough is an extremely contagious bacterial infection.

It mainly affects babies younger than 6 months old who aren't yet protected by immunizations, and kids 11 to 18 years old whose immunity has started to fade.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 24.1 million cases of whooping cough and about 160,700 deaths per year.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Most people acquire the bacteria by breathing in the bacteria that are present in droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Bacteria enter the air passages and damage the lining of the windpipe and the main air passages in the lungs.

The inflamed airways produce more mucus which then causes the irritating cough. Common sources of infection in babies are older siblings, parents, and caregivers.

Gram Stain of Bordetella Pertussis

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


Once infection with whooping cough bacteria has occurred, the time until symptoms appear is usually between 5 to 10 days, though it can be as long as 21 days.

In many people, whooping cough is marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like "whoop."

It usually begins with cold-like symptoms including runny nose, sore watery red eyes, low-grade fever and malaise. Dry cough develops after around 3 days. Cough may lead to vomiting.






Doctors usually suspect whooping cough by asking about the symptoms. They will confirm the diagnosis by taking a swab from the back of the nose or throat. They may use chest x-ray to see if the patient has also developed pneumonia.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


The goals of whooping cough treatment include limiting the number of paroxysms, observing the severity of cough, providing assistance when necessary, and maximizing nutrition, rest, and recovery.

Medications used to treat the infection include antibiotics such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin.

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It's a bacterial infection, so it can be treated with antibiotics, usually erythromycin or a family of antibiotics like erythromycin. Erythromycin is taken for 2 weeks.

— Tom Clark, MD, MPH, of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.


In the USA, vaccination against whooping cough is recommended for people of all age groups. This include babies, children, teens, adults, and pregnant people.

Doctors administer age-appropriate shots of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine to children at the ages of 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age for full immunity.

DTaP vaccine protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (for infants and children).

Tdap vaccine protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (for preteens, teens, and adults).

A research study, published on June 10 2019 in the journal Pediatrics, found that the risk of coming down with whooping cough was 13 times higher in those who were unvaccinated, and almost twice as high in those who received some, but not all, of their shots.

In May 2022, Intravacc B.V., located at Utrecht Science Park Bilthoven in the Netherlands, announced the signing of an exclusive licensing agreement with Beijing Zhifei Lvzhu Biopharmaceutical Co., Ltd in China for Avacc 3 an OMV-based whooping cough vaccine.

Practice healthy habits like washing your hands frequently and maintain good personal hygiene.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put your used tissue in a waste basket.

If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.

People who have been exposed and have symptoms must stay away from school or work and avoid contact with others.

The way that we protect the people who are at the greatest risk is by making sure that we are taking a careful approach, identifying those who do have the disease, making sure they are treated so they are less likely to transmit the disease and really kind of creating a cocoon around those people who are vulnerable.

— Matt Kelley, Gallatin Health Department Officer.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Whooping cough is also known as _______
    • Tuberculosis
    • Cancer
    • Pertussis
    • Gout
  2. Whooping cough is caused by which bacteria?
    • Streptococcus pyogenes
    • Bordetella pertussis
    • E.coli
    • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  3. Which are the common sources of infection?
    • Parents
    • Siblings
    • Caregivers
    • All the above
  4. Whooping cough usually begins with cold-like symptoms.
    • True
    • False
  5. There is no vaccination for whooping cough.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. Pertussis
  2. Bordetella pertussis
  3. All the above
  4. True
  5. False

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Srikanth R

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