Whooping Cough

sick man coughing on white background

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a disease affecting the respiratory system, caused by bacterial infection from the bacteria called bordetella pertussis. In many places around the world it is also known as the one-hundred days cough. Before a widespread vaccine was developed in 1925, whooping cough was viewed primarily as a disease afflicting children only. While the disease still affects children, it is only because those children are too young to have been able to go through the whole course of vaccinations. Worldwide, whooping cough affects approximately 49 million people every year, while killing an estimated 300,000 people annually. Deaths from the disease are rare however, but unfortunately those who do succumb are mostly infants.


The main mode of contracting whooping cough is by catching it from another person. In the lungs, the nose, and the throat, is where the whooping cough bacteria live and thrive, so to catch the disease, all that needs to occur is for you to simply breathe in the bacteria that has been coughed into the air by someone who has the bacteria. However, just inhaling one or two bacteria will not ensure that you will become sick. You’d likely need to breathe in many thousands of the bacteria, unless you have a compromised or weak immune system, like, for example, a newborn baby. Another possible way of contracting whooping cough is if you already have an existing illness such as the common cold or an otherwise persistent cough. This, by the way, can make a diagnosis that you have actual whooping cough very difficult to make because of having acquired back-to-back interrelated respiratory illnesses. Additionally, those who have asthma seem to be extra susceptible to whooping cough. Finally, it is well documented that even if you have a case of whooping cough, you may not even realize it, since it is so closely related in symptomology to regular viral coughs.


It often takes upwards of three weeks after a person has been infected with the bacteria before any symptoms are present. Once a person does begin to show signs, such symptoms usually are mild in severity, often mimicking those associated with a common cold virus, such as fever, mild coughing, stuffed up sinuses, sneezing, watery eyes, etc. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms get much worse as mucus begins to develop in the respiratory tract. Thus, of course, the cough worsens, becoming quite severe and followed up by what’s called, and sounds like, the “whoop”, on the intake of breath in between coughs. Vomiting after a bout of coughing is also common. Also, as a result of such pronounced fits of coughing, hemorrhaging of the eye, along with fracturing in the ribs, hernias, and sometimes fainting can occur. A person with whooping cough may experience their face discoloring to red or blue. Furthermore, the bouts of severe coughing can be brought on by quite innocuous events such as laughing or yawning, or by simply eating or stretching. The coughing bouts will also occur in blocks, often unfolding per hour, day after day.


One the most effective ways of treating whooping cough is with vaccinations. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both highly recommend getting vaccinated against the disease, especially babies and children, as this population is at most risk for both contracting the disease and possibly dying from it. To further their effectiveness, recent data show that since 2002, over 500,000 lives have been saved through whooping cough vaccination. Aside from vaccination, drugs such as antibiotics also work well, especially in killing the whooping cough bacteria and thus speeding up the recovery process. Those around the infected can be administered a preventive antibiotic. However, as far as traditional medicine is concerned, there is little that can be done to alleviate the nasty coughing associated with the disease. Natural medicine, on the other hand, does promote certain natural remedies, especially for the cessation of the symptom of coughing. For instance, garlic is touted to work against the severe coughing in whooping cough (usually administered as a garlic syrup). Ginger is another herb to consider, with the ginger juice mixed with honey acting as a great diaphoretic. Also, radish, almond oil, and calamus offer healing properties for whooping cough, with calamus (when the herb is roasted and added with some honey) acting as an antispasmodic, preventing further extreme fits of coughing.