Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a very contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. Someone with whooping cough will cough violently, often making a "whoop" sound on the in breath.
Whooping cough can be deadly to infants and small children. A vaccine can protect against whooping cough, and children in the U.S. are routinely vaccinated for pertussis. But the disease is making a comeback, especially in infants who have not completed the series of vaccinations, and in teens whose immunity has worn off.
Babies need a series of 3 vaccines before they are fully protected from whooping cough, however, studies show significant protection after just one dose of the vaccine. The vaccine keeps children from getting the disease when they are most at risk. Immunity weakens as we get older, so teens and adults who have been vaccinated can still get a milder form of the disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 11 to 18 get a booster shot that includes a whooping cough vaccine.
Signs and Symptoms
There are 3 stages of the disease.
Stage 1 lasts 1 to 2 weeks:
Stage 2 lasts 1 to 6 weeks:
Stage 3 lasts 2 weeks to several months as the cough slowly goes away.
What Causes It?
Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It is spread through droplets coughed or sneezed into the air. It is a highly contagious disease. Adults with a mild form can infect people who have not yet been vaccinated.
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
Your doctor may be able to diagnose whooping cough by listening to your cough, however, whooping cough can be hard to diagnose in the early stages. Your provider may take a smear from your nose or throat, and ask you to avoid contact with others while you are contagious. People with complications, severe coughing bouts, or who are under 2 years of age are hospitalized.
Whooping cough can be deadly to a baby under 6 months of age, and can cause complications even in toddlers. A baby with pertussis should be treated immediately by a doctor. In adults, treatment is largely to control symptoms and prevent spreading. Quarantine, IV fluids and nutrition, oxygen, and a ventilator may be needed in some cases.
Over-the-counter cough suppressants do not work and should not be used, especially in children under 2.
Surgical and Other Procedures
Doctors may suction secretions and use oxygen, IV fluids, and electrolytes in infants and adults who are at risk for longer illness.
Mist by tent may help infants.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Someone with whooping cough needs antibiotics. DO NOT use herbs and supplements alone, especially for children. Supplements, herbs, and homeopathy may help you get better faster when used along with conventional medications. Always talk with your doctor if you are using alternative therapies in addition to medication, and work with a knowledgeable provider.
Give small, frequent meals of vegetable broths, steamed vegetables, and fresh fruit.
Vitamin C, zinc, and beta-carotene. Be sure to use beta-carotene and not vitamin A. Ask your doctor before giving vitamin supplements to a child.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
DO NOT use herbs by themselves to treat whooping cough, especially in children. Make sure you have your pediatrician's approval before giving any herb to a child.
There are no studies that use specific herbs to treat whooping cough. These herbs have been used traditionally to treat coughs and strengthen the immune system. All have side effects and can interact with other medications, so it is crucial to talk to your doctor or your pediatrician before using any herbs. Your doctor can advise you about whether these herbs would help you or your child, and can help you determine the right dose.
Expectorants (help get rid of mucus):
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies as supplemental treatment for the symptoms of pertussis as long as the underlying infection has been appropriately treated. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type, includes your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
Chest rubs. Use 3 to 6 drops of essential oil (camphor, thyme, eucalyptus, and rosemary) with 1 tbs. food-grade oil (coconut, almond, flax, or olive). Avoid getting essential oils in the eyes. Make sure the mixture is not too strong, as it could irritate the respiratory tract. DO NOT give essential oils by mouth because they can be toxic.
Castor oil pack. Apply oil to clean soft cloth, place on chest, and cover with plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack, and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. DO NOT use for more than 4 days in a row. DO NOT give castor oil by mouth (internally).
Place 3 to 6 drops of essential oil in a humidifier or a warm bath.
Alternate hot and cold applications to the chest or back. Alternate 3 minutes hot with 1 minute cold.
Although acupuncture has not been studied for whooping cough, some people may use acupuncture to help strengthen the immune system.
Foot massage can be relaxing and may help a child sleep. Some children may not want to be touched, however.
Most adults and children make a complete recovery.
Vaccinations are 80 - 90% effective. They last about 12 years.
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Review Date: 4/27/2016
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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