Treatment and Prevention
Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics, which are most effective when taken during the early stages of the disease. While the drugs won't instantly stop the coughing spells, they will decrease a person's contagiousness. A quick round of antibiotics stopped my kids' coughing in a matter of days, but since I'd been sick longer and the immunity from my childhood vaccinations had worn off long ago, I continued to cough—albeit less violently—for another few weeks. Since pertussis is so contagious, anyone living with or in close contact with someone with pertussis should also take preventative antibiotics. That includes childcare workers, college students who inhabit the same dorm building, even co-workers who may share a telephone or computer keyboard with an infected person.
This blanket treatment and prevention is necessary because infants usually acquire pertussis from siblings and parents at home, when they are still too young to be vaccinated against the infection. Dr. Patton explains, "Often teenagers or adults will have mild symptoms or just cold symptoms because they still have some immunity, but they can spread it to younger or older more vulnerable members of the community." And it's the very young and very old who are most likely to die from the disease. Just consider that according to the CDC, 92 percent of all pertussis hospitalizations in the last decade occurred in infants less than 6 months old.
While early diagnosis and antibiotics are effective in treating whooping cough, prevention though vaccinations is the best solution. Babies should receive five doses of the DTaP vaccine before age 6, and now an adolescent/adult booster is available to keep everyone's immunity up to date. Dr. Cochi says, "It's important that parents vaccinate their infants and children to prevent this serious disease." Dr. Patton agrees, "Immunizations are critical to preventing life threatening illnesses, and whooping cough can be fatal to an unimmunized child. If you or a member of your family has a cough that lasts more than 10 days, please see a physician and consider pertussis."
This article originally appeared in Nashville Parent Magazine.