Childhood Diseases Common Illnesses Whooping Cough

Also known as pertussis, whooping cough is a respiratory infection caused by the Bordetella pertussis (and also Bordetella parapertussis) bacteria. The whooping cough name comes from the “whooping” sound of the coughing spells an infected person has. Since the development of a whooping cough vaccine in the 50s, this disease usually isn’t seen in the United States.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

Like many illnesses, whooping cough typically starts out with the following symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Malaise (general feeling of tiredness and unwellness)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing.

After a week or two, the cough turns into longer, whooping coughing spells, and sometimes vomiting. Between these spells, sufferers typically feel fine.

Not everyone will exhibit these whooping spells. Some infected infants may not cough. They may appear to be gasping for air, and their faces may appear red. Some may even stop breathing for a moment. Some adolescents or adults may also experience milder symptoms, without the coughing spells or whooping sound.

Whooping Cough Vaccine

The DTaP vaccine is the best way to protect your child against whooping cough. This vaccine, which stands for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, provides immunization coverage for all three diseases as well as the whooping cough. This current vaccine is a newer, safer version of the previous DTP vaccine, which is no longer used.

In order to prevent the whooping cough, the DTaP vaccine should be given to children in five doses. The vaccination should be given at the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years.

Whooping Cough Complications

Whooping cough complications are typically related to the severe coughing spells and may include problems such as:

  • Abdominal hernia
  • Broken blood vessels in the eye’s skin or whites
  • Bruised or cracked ribs.

In infants, symptoms may be more severe, including:

  • Brain damage
  • Dehydration
  • Ear infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Slowed or stopped breathing.

Call your doctor if you’re concerned about particular symptoms.

Whooping Cough Treatment Options

Treatment for whooping cough varies. Because whooping cough is highly contagious, however, your child will probably have to be isolated. Whooping cough symptoms are more dangerous for infants, so hospitalization often occurs in this age group, especially if children are unable to keep down liquid or food. Some kids may be prescribed sedatives to help them rest.

For the most part, older kids can usually receive treatment at home. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause whooping cough and to quicken recovery. Doctors may also prescribe antibiotics to family members as a preventive measure.

Not much can be done to relieve the symptoms of the “whooping” cough itself. You’ll want to treat it as you would any other cough. Some recommendations are the following:

  • Use masks to limit the spread of bacteria to others.
  • Avoid smoking or other irritants that could worsen coughing spells.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the air.


DiPentima, C. (2008). Infections: Whooping cough (pertussis). Retrieved December 23, 2009, from the Healthy Kids Web site:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Whooping cough. Retrieved December 23, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

Medline Plus Staff. (n.d.) Whooping cough. Retrieved December 23, 2009, from the Med Line Plus Web site: