How Is Pertussis Treated?
Treatment for pertussis is easily available and highly encouraged. If started early, it can help reduce severity, duration and the risk of complications, particularly in infants. So, once a diagnosis is made or suspected exposure has been determined, you should start on antibiotics immediately. Several antibiotics are available to treat pertussis. The most popular are azithromycin, clarithromycin and erythromycin.
If you have had pertussis for three weeks or more, antibiotics will not be prescribed because the bacteria are already gone from your body. At this point, your symptoms will slowly improve on their own, but your doctor will want to address any other damage done to your body while you were sick.
Supportive care, such as plenty of rest and fluids, can ease symptoms. Eating small, frequent meals can help prevent vomiting. It may also be helpful to rid your home of any irritants that could trigger coughing, such as smoke, dust and chemical fumes. Unfortunately, not much can be done for the cough, as over-the-counter cough medicine is ineffective, and its use is strongly discouraged.
In severe cases, hospitalization may be needed to treat complications. Infants are at the greatest risk of developing severe complications with about half of babies under one year needing to be hospitalized.
Childhood immunization reduces the risk of catching pertussis, and universal immunization of all infants can limit exposure by reducing the overall number of cases. Booster shots may be needed throughout life to ensure that your immunity remains intact. They are recommended for all adults 19-65 years, and for older adults who will be in contact with babies less than 12 months old.
Because the risk of pertussis transmission is so high, if you or someone in your family has pertussis, your doctor will likely suggest that everyone in the household is treated with antibiotics.
Like many other illnesses, having good health habits can reduce the spread of pertussis. Properly wash your hands with soap and water often, especially if you come into contact with an infected individual. Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and clean your hands afterward. Staying home when you are sick will help prevent the spread of infectious respiratory diseases.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: November 17, 2022