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Can Pertussis be Prevented and are There Treatment Options?

How Do You Treat Pertussis Whooping Cough?

There are no prescription drugs that cure pertussis, but many doctors routinely prescribe antibiotics to try to reduce a person’s ability to transmit the disease to others. Antibiotics are also given to help prevent secondary infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and otitis media (inner ear infection). In the past, these complications caused many of the deaths following whooping cough.

In past decades, the antibiotic of choice to treat B. pertussis whooping cough has been erythromycin, but newer antibiotics, such as clarithromycin and azithromycin, are often used today. An additional treatment option may also include the use of Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxasole (Bactrim). However, antibiotics do not eliminate the symptoms of B. pertussis whooping cough, such as the severity or length of paroxysmal coughing.1

Holistic health care approaches to help manage the symptoms of whooping cough disease include chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, diet and vitamin therapy, including supplemental vitamin D and C.2 3

It is very important to keep those sick with whooping cough properly hydrated with plenty of fluids, as fever, vomiting up of mucous and, sometimes, diarrhea that occurs during a pertussis infection can cause severe dehydration. If untreated, severe dehydration can lead to shock/collapse, unconsciousness and even death.4

Once You Have Had Pertussis Can You Get It Again?

Some people gain immunity after experiencing B. pertussis whooping cough disease. However, it is possible to have more than one bout with whooping cough in life, although subsequent cases are generally milder or may even be experienced without many symptoms.5 After recovering from a pertussis infection, natural immunity is thought to last between seven and 20 years6

All vaccines only give temporary protection/immunity from disease, which is why booster doses are often recommended. For many individuals, the pertussis vaccine (DPT, DTaP, TDaP) does not give long lasting protection against the disease and some individuals will never develop temporary immunity despite receiving all recommended boosters.7, 8, 9 Over time, the temporary immunity individuals may acquire through vaccination wanes, which often results in outbreaks of B pertussis in fully vaccinated children, teenagers and adults.10, 11, 12, 13 Further, it is possible for fully vaccinated individuals to be asymptomatic (infected, but having no symptoms) and spread B pertussis to others.14

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Pertussis and the Pertussis vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

« Return to Vaccines & Diseases Table of Contents


1 CDC Pertussis Treatment. Aug. 7, 2017

2 Mercola. Evolving Bacteria Outsmarts Vaccines. Jan 13, 2015

3 Ormerod, MJ, Unkauf BM. Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Treatment of Whooping Cough. Can Med Assoc J. 1937 Aug; 37(2): 134–136.

4 Moore K. Whooping Cough (Pertussis). Healthline. May 21, 2018

5 Finger H, von Koenig CHW. Chapter 31 Bordetella. Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996.

6 Wendelboe AM, Van Rie A, et al. Duration of immunity against pertussis after natural infection or vaccination. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2005; 24(Suppl 5): S58-S61.

7 Cherry JD. Why Do Pertussis Vaccines Fail? Pediatrics 2012; 129(5).

8 Lavine J, Bjornstad O, de Blasio BF, Storsaeter J. Short-lived immunity against pertussis, age-specific routes of transmission, and the utility of a teenage booster vaccine. Vaccine 2012; 30(3): 544-551.

9 McGirr A, Fisman, DN, Duration of Pertussis Immunity After DTaP Immunization: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics Feb 2015, 135 (2)

10 Klein NP, Bartless S, Fireman B, Baxter R. Waning Tdap Effectiveness in Adolescents. Pediatrics Feb. 3, 2016.

11 Klein NP; Bartlett J; Rowhani-Rahbar A; Fireman B; Baxter R Waning protection after fifth dose of acellular pertussis vaccine in children N Engl J Med.  2012; 367(11):1012-9

12 Misegades LK, Winter K, Harriman K et al. Association of Childhood Pertussis With Receipt of 5 Doses of Pertussis Vaccine by Time Since Last Vaccine Dose, California, 2010 JAMA 2012; 308(20): 2126-2132.

13 Matthias J, Pritchard S, Martin SW et al. Sustained Transmission of Pertussis in Vaccinated, 1–5-Year-Old Children in a Preschool, Florida, USA. Emerg Infect Dis Jan. 15, 2016.

14 Warfel JM, Zimmerman LI, Merkel TJ. Acellular pertussis vaccines protect against disease but fail to prevent infection and transmission in a nonhuman primate model. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2014; 111(2): 787–792

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