Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Quick GuideWhooping Cough (pertussis) Symptoms, Causes, Vaccine, and Treatment

Whooping Cough (pertussis) Symptoms, Causes, Vaccine, and Treatment

What is the treatment for whooping cough?

Antibiotics directed against Bordetella pertussis can be effective in reducing the severity of whooping cough when administered early in the course of the disease. Antibiotic therapy can also help reduce the risk of transmission of the bacterium to other household members as well as to others who may come into contact with an infected person. Unfortunately, most people with whooping cough are diagnosed later with the condition in the second (paroxysmal) stage of the disease.

Treatment with antibiotics is recommended for anyone who has had the disease for less than three to four weeks. Azithromycin (Zithromax), clarithromycin (Biaxin), erythromycin (E-Mycin, Eryc, Ery-Tab, PCE, Pediazole, Ilosone), and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra) are antibiotics that have been shown to be effective in treating whooping cough. It is unclear whether antibiotics have any benefit for people who have been ill with whooping cough for longer than three to four weeks, although antibiotic therapy still is often considered for this group often. There is no proven effective treatment for the paroxysms of coughing that accompany whooping cough.

Antibiotics also are routinely administered to people who have had close contact with an infected person, regardless of their vaccination status.

Do not give an infected child cough syrup or cough medicines unless instructed to do so by a doctor. They have not been shown to be of benefit, and they may cause sedation that leads to worsened outcomes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/28/2015

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