I’ve learned some interesting things about whooping cough (pertussis):
1. Childhood immunization does not continue into adulthood.
So now you folks can stop asking me, “Weren’t you immunized as a child?” A CDC study suggests that immunity only lasts for 3-6 years. Adults can get the Tdap (pertussis and tetanus) vaccine.
2. Pertussis is highly contagious.
When an infected person coughs, tiny bacteria-carrying droplets are sprayed into the air and inhaled by people nearby. Mom was right: cover your mouth when you cough.
3. The contagious state is estimated to be 3 weeks from infection by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria (although that is difficult to pinpoint because pertussis can be preceded by a respiratory infection and has an incubation period of 7-10 days) or 5 days after start of antibiotic treatment.
4. Antibiotics do not shorten the duration of the illness, unless administered very early, but they do stop its spread.
If you are infected, it’s a good idea for other family members to receive prophylactic antibiotics.
5. Over-the-counter medications aren’t very effective.
I found thyme tea to be helpful in suppressing the cough and expectorants, for getting rid of the, er, gunk. Antihistamines, codeine, and commercial cough remedies did not help me.
6. Pertussis declined in the US in the 1940s, when the vaccine was introduced, but has been increasing since the ’80s (reasons unknown).
7. Pertussis is also called the 100-day cough. It can stop after three weeks but it can last for months.
8. Pertussis is very difficult to diagnose.
During the initial catarrhal stage, it is often mistaken for cold, bronchitis, flu, allergies, and asthma. The second stage, paroxysmal coughing, is when the characteristic “whoop” (gasp for breath between coughs) may appear in 50% of adults who are infected. Pertussis is very difficult to culture in a lab, so the most common test is a seriological test for pertussis antibodies, which isn’t very accurate (only shows that you were exposed).
9. Severe coughing can cause broken ribs, disrupted sleep, abdominal pain, fainting, vomiting, and incontinence.
No joke. You may think thyme tea sounds disgusting but if you have ever had a night disrupted by several bouts of coughing and gasping, you’d be willing to swallow anything just to get a good night’s sleep.
10. Pregnant women are advised to get the Tdap vaccine to protect their infants.
The vaccine is safe during pregnancy. On the other hand, pertussis can be fatal to infants and many of the babies who contract pertussis were too young to vaccinate. So this piece of advice seems sound and is on the CDC site below.
For more information: