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For the average case of whooping cough there is no treatment likely to make a difference to the course of the illness or materially reduce the symptoms. It will generally take its course no matter what. Attempts to get benefit from bronchodilators, cough suppressants or antibiotics are generally futile.
There are a few exceptions however.
One exception is in those who get severe illness. This is most often infants, particularly those under 3 to 6 months, but it also applies to the frail or very elderly and those debilitated by other illness or malnutrition. In such cases treatment with steroids can reduce the severity and antibiotics might be used to prevent complicating infections. Supportive measures with hydration and oxygenation may be necessary. Such cases would obviously be in hospital. It should be noted that in the developed world one would not expect even 1% of cases to require hospitalization because most cases are mild.
Another exception is when serious complications occur. This is also rare and probably affects about 1 or 2% of cases in the developed world. The most frequent complication is pneumonia which requires standard antibiotic treatment. Some patients get a secondary infection of bacterial tracheo-bronchitis causing increased cough and sputum which may improve with antibiotics, but does not generally cause illness.
For very young babies whooping cough is a dangerous illness and they can die from pneumonia, respiratory failure and encephalopathy. It is to protect babies that we have an immunization program, and it is effective.
Many people with whooping cough are given an antibiotic such as azithromycin. This is to kill any Bordetella pertussis they may still carry so as to make it more difficult to pass it on to others. It does not help the disease because the bugs have already done the damage by the time it is usually diagnosed. If however you have such an antibiotic while you are incubating the disease it is believed it may prevent it developing.
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|Role of antibiotics in whooping cough|