Pertussis is a violent cough, sometimes called whooping cough. A vaccine for
pertussis was developed in 1948. Before then, children in the United States
often died from it. The disease is rising again because fewer people are getting
Signs and Symptoms
The three phases of the disease are listed below.
Catarrhal phase (lasts one to two weeks):
Upper respiratory infection; begins like the common cold
Low-grade fever (less than 100.4°F)
Loss of appetite
Paroxysmal phase (lasts one to four weeks):
Cough increases (2 to 50 times a day) and fever decreases
Sudden, forceful breathing in causes the whooping sound
A sudden intense bout of coughing (paroxysms) causes bulging and
tearing eyes, tongue sticking out, and bluish discoloration
Vomiting or choking may follow coughing bouts
Convalescent phase (lasts two weeks to several months):
Cough slowly goes away
What Causes It?
A type of bacteria causes pertussis, and it is spread through droplets
coughed into the air. It is a highly contagious disease.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will prescribe an antibiotic, which helps prevent
the disease from spreading. Patients with complications, severe coughing bouts,
or who are under one year of age are hospitalized.
Treatment is largely to control symptoms and prevent spread. Quarantine,
parenteral fluid and nutrition, oxygen supplementation, and mechanical
ventilation may be required.
Antibiotics—(usually erythromycin) reduce
transmission and are effective even for infants.
Corticosteroids such as betamethasone (0.075 mg daily per kilogram of
body weight) may reduce severity and length of coughing fits, especially in
Albuterol (0.3 to 0.5 mg daily per kilogram of body weight) reduces
the severity of coughing fits
Do not use cough
Surgical and Other Procedures
In cases of loss of consciousness, immediate resuscitation is
essential to avoid brain damage and death.
Suctioning of secretions, oxygen administration, parenteral fluids
and electrolytes are used for infants and in those with protracted
Mist by tent may benefit infants.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Pertussis can be treated with nutrition, herbs, and homeopathy.
Note: Doses given are for children. Adults should double the
Eliminate dairy, bananas, wheat, and meat products.
Encourage small, frequent meals of vegetable broths, steamed
vegetables, and fresh fruit (especially pineapple and grapes).
Vitamin C (200 to 500 mg two times per day), zinc (10 to 15 mg per
day), and beta-carotene (10,000 to 25,000 IU per
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites
(glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made 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.
Catarrhal stage: Choose two herbs from each of the first three categories.
Combine in equal parts in a tea (˝ cup every three to four hours), a tincture or
glycerite (30 drops every three to four hours).
Paroxysmal stage: In addition to the above formula, combine 2 parts of catnip
with two to four of the other antispasmodic herbs in a tincture or glycerite (20
drops every one to two hours).
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Usnea lichen (Usnea spp.)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Anise seed (Pimpinella anisum)
Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) (not more than 1/4
Catnip (Nepeta cateria)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus)
Although very few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific
homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following
remedies as a 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. A
constitutional type is defined as a person's physical, emotional, and
psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors
when determining the most appropriate treatment for each
Aconite -- should be taken during the first 24 hours that
symptoms appear, particularly if they develop following exposure to cold
weather; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals with a hoarse, dry,
cough who complain of dry mouth, thirst, restlessness, worsened symptoms from
cold air and/or lying on the side, and being awakened from the cough
Drosera -- for dry, spasmodic cough with sharp chest pain and a
tickling sensation in the throat that may cause the individual to gag, choke or
vomit; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who tend to be hoarse,
become worse when lying down, and perspire during the night
Hepar sulphuricum -- for later stages of pertussis with
wheezing, little mucus production, and coughing that comes on when any part of
the body gets cold
Ipecacuanha -- spasmodic cough and gagging or vomiting; this
remedy is commonly prescribed for infants
Phosphorus -- for several different types of cough, most
particularly a dry, harsh cough described as a persistent tickle with sharp
chest pain signified by the individual clutching his or her painful chest; this
remedy is most appropriate for individuals who are often worn out and exhausted,
have undue anxiety, even fear of death and require a lot of reassurance
Spongia -- for harsh, barking cough that produces no mucus and
is associated with a tickling in the throat or chest that worsens when lying
down improves when the individual eats or drinks warm liquids; this remedy is
often used if Aconite was not successful
Chest rubs. Use 3 to 6 drops of essential oil (camphor, thyme,
eucalyptus, rosemary) with 1 tbsp. food-grade oil (almond, flax, or
Castor oil pack. Apply oil directly to chest, cover with a clean soft
cloth and plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack and let sit for 30 to
60 minutes. Use daily.
Place 3 to 6 drops of essential oil in a humidifier or a warm
Alternating hot and cold applications to the chest or back. Alternate
three minutes hot with one minute cold.
Warming sock treatment. Before bed, place cold, damp socks on warmed
feet and cover with dry wool socks
May enhance immunity and decrease duration and severity of
Foot massage has a relaxing effect and can help induce
Complete recovery is expected unless there are
Vaccinations are 80 to 90 percent effective. They last about 12
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Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Robert A. Anderson, MD,
President, American Board of Holistic Medicine, East Wenatchee, WA; Peter
Hinderberger, MD, PhD, Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD;
Paul Rogers, MD, Facility Medical Director, Bright Oaks Pediatrics, Bel Air MD;
Elizabeth Wotton, ND, private practice, Sausalito,
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed