I am adding this paragraph because I am getting some emails along the following lines. "My child is 3 years old with a bad cough and I think it might be whooping cough, his young sister aged 6 months had started coughing too, should I be worried? They have both had their shots."
If you need medical help you need to get it from a doctor who can see and examine the sick person. This site is to provide information to help you make a decision about getting medical advice and will mainly apply only to adults who are trying to manage themselves. It can be very difficult to diagnose children with whooping cough and it can be weeks before the cause is clear. Children can get sick very quickly and seriously with chest infections so if you are concerned, see a doctor, do not email me as I will not be able to help in any way.
The following questions are the ones I have been most commonly asked in the thousands of emails I have received since the site opened in mid 2000. The questions are always interesting, for all sorts of reasons. Some people give me family details that make me feel I am one of them. That is very nice. Many are also complimentary about the site, usually saying something like; "Thank goodness I found your site, now I know for sure what my child has (or I have). I have seen numerous doctors and they said it was just a cough. Yours is the only site that has helped me find out what it is." Modest as I am, I still think it is the only realistic site about whooping cough. Its purpose is to be realistic, so I am very pleased that people find it as helpful as I think they should.
Most of the questions asked have the answers somewhere in the site already. But never mind, I too would probably be too impatient to study every page. But this section may cut down my email by helping people avoid trawling through everything for what they want. I have tried to link questions to the relevant information page too. Some questions are irksome because they are asked as if the site did not exist at all. The first is a good example.
Q1. Dear Dr J. I have been diagnosed with whooping cough and had several antibiotics, steroids, inhalers and cough medicines, none of which have done any good. We are desperate to find something to relieve it and get me/my wife better faster . What can we do Dr J?
A. Oh dear! I am really sorry for you, but the whole point of this site is to point out that it is a prolonged distressing illness very often, and there is no treatment that makes any real difference in most cases. It just gets better in its own good time, which may be as short as 3 weeks but is more likely to be 2 to 3 months. There is no remedy except prevention by making sure everybody gets all their shots, then far fewer people would get it. (see treatment page)
Q2. Dear Dr J. How long is it contagious for. Can I still pass it on? (infectious is actually the correct term for something not spread by direct contact)?
This is a good question. From the start of whooping cough most people are incapable of passing it on after 3 weeks if they are given no antibiotic which kills the bug (but remember there are no hard and fast rules) and could possibly be as much as six weeks. If you have an antibiotic which kills the bug (Bordetella pertussis) you are considered unable to pass it on after 5 days on the antibiotic (Erythromycin is usually the one, but again, nobody can guarantee it will be effective). Once these intervals have passed it is most unlikely anyone could become infectious for a second time (but maybe not impossible), even if the symptoms recurred after a short time of improvement.
This all sounds very straightforward, so I would like to tell you what often makes it complicated. It is sometimes difficult to know when it starts because getting a viral cold or respiratory infection makes people susceptible to whooping cough, So the start of the symptoms in that case is not the start of whooping cough, which could be 2 weeks (or any other short time) later. So, good people, if you ask me to solve your riddle, I will probably be no better able to answer it than you can for yourself.
Q3. Dear Dr J. Every year I get a cough which sounds just like the cough on your site. Could this be whooping cough?
No. You can get it again but you should be immune for roughly 10 years. So more often than that must be almost impossible.
Q4. Dear Dr J. We seemed to be getting over whooping cough after an exhausting 8 weeks when suddenly it has come back again . What has gone wrong? How long will it last?
This is very common. When whooping cough is in its recovery phase, catching another mild respiratory infection will cause all the bad whooping cough symptoms to come back again, but only for the duration of the cold , then it will settle again.
Q5. Dear Dr J. I am pregnant and I have whooping cough (or been in contact with whooping cough) and am very worried about whether the baby could be damaged.
I do not know of any information to have ever suggested that having whooping cough during pregnancy does any harm to the baby whatsoever. There are no worries on that score. Unless you are still infectious when the baby is born. The baby could catch it then, which would be extremely serious. Fortunately, in such circumstances, giving erythromycin to mother before birth and baby after birth, would be almost certain to stop the baby getting it. All pregnant women should now be immunized against whooping cough between 28 and 32weeks ideally. Later may be OK too. It is very effective at protecting babies from whooping cough before they get their shots.
Q7. Dear Dr J. I am working on an assignment about infectious disease. Can you give me some information about...................................
No! Do your own work!
Q8. Dear Dr J. My husband (wife, child) has had this terrible cough for 3 weeks and I am wondering whether it is whooping cough. I am really worried .
Then get a doctor to see the patient straight away! This site is not a substitute for a doctor. If somebody thinks they have whooping cough they need to see a doctor. Not necessarily to get whooping cough confirmed (as we know that probably won't happen), but to make sure it is nothing more serious.
Q9. Dear Dr J. I have had fever and a bad cough that is making me choke for 4 days now. I sound just like the recording. Is this whooping cough?
I haven't a clue! Probably not. Whooping cough starts as an ordinary cough that gradually becomes choking over a week, or often more. I only diagnose whooping cough if somebody has a typical choking cough for three weeks. You can ask me again in 3 weeks if you like, but by then you probably won't need to!
Q10. Dear Dr J. My doctor is useless. I have told him/her it is just like whooping cough, but he/she does not seem to think it could be and I get prescribed more antibiotics and told it is just an ordinary cough. How can I get through?
You are probably fighting a losing battle. As long as your doctor does a physical check, you are probably not missing out on anything, but I agree, it is difficult to have confidence. There is a page on this site that you could print out and give to your doctor in the hope that they may be prepared to learn something from you, or, having read it, tell you with good reason why it does not fit with whooping cough. (page for doctors)
Q11. Dear Dr J. Does whooping cough cause any long term lung damage?
Hardly ever nowadays, in all probability. It is very difficult to know for sure though. It used to be thought it was a cause of bronchiectasis. This might have true in the past but probably not now. To cause lung damage it would probably have to cause pneumonia first.
Q12. Dear Dr J. Can I get whooping cough more than once?
Yes. But if you get the natural infection you should be unable to get it again for decades as natural immunity seems to last a long time. Quite a lot of adults with it tell me they had it as a child. Many people tell me they get a choking cough that sounds like whooping cough every year. I am sure that cannot be whooping cough.
Q13 Dear Dr J. I have heard that whooping cough vaccine can cause permanent brain damage. Is it true?
NOT true. In the 1970s people thought it might be true of the old type vaccine used then, but research done at the time showed it not to be true. The question was asked about the old whole cell vaccine. In the developed world we now use acellular vaccine which is much purer than the old vaccine anyway and does not cause any kind of damage.
Q14. Dear Dr J. What is Bordetella parapertussis? Does it cause whooping cough?
It is a closely related bacterium that can also cause whooping cough. Some think it is a less severe form. It is probably responsible for less than 1% of cases. (lab-diagnosis)
Q15 Dear Dr J. I am going to Australia to see our new grandson. Can I get a whooping cough booster as he will not be immunized and I understand it is more common in adults.
It is a good idea although most people do not bother. Your doctor or travel clinic should be able to give you a booster of REPEVAX. (see prevention/immunization also)
Q16 Dear Dr J. I am pregnant and want to boost my immunity to whooping cough for the baby's protection in the first few months.
You can have Repevax or equivalent quite safely. It should be given between 28 and 38 weeks. It gives your baby a very great protection (about 90%).
Q17 Dear Dr J. I am recovering from whooping cough and feel quite reasonable. What is it safe for me to activitywise.
You should be able do your normal activites including exercise quite safely. Driving and having a coughing attack is obviously a "no-no".
Q18 Dear Dr J. Since I started with whooping cough I cannot sing and my voice sounds different.
This is quite common in adults. It usually clears but may last longer than the coughing. Very occasionally the voice never completely recovers.
Q19 Dear Dr J. I know I (my child) have had whooping cough. Do I (he/she) still need to get the regular immunization shots?
I used to say "no" to this question. Now I say "yes", because the experts in such matters say you cannot be sure natural infection has given long lasting immunity to all varieties of pertussis. The vaccine is no guarantee either, but it seems better to have it than not.
Adults ask the same question. The best answer is get the immunization if you can, but in some countries it is not available as an option (for adults). This is largely because although it sounds a good idea in theory there is no good evidence that it is beneficial.