What is Pertussis?

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly contagious respiratory infection, caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It is also called whooping cough because of the severe coughing associated with the infection, and the “whooping” sound when an infected person breathes in after a coughing fit. It is considered to be one of the “normal childhood illnesses,” because it is common in children 10 years of age or younger. Most children will recover without incident but for children under than age of 12 months, it is very difficult and can be fatal, especially in newborns. 

The first outbreak of whooping cough was in the 16th century, though the type of bacteria responsible for the infection was not identified until 1906. Outbreaks were also common in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. In some countries it is known as the “100 days cough.”

In the 1920s, Dr. Louis Sauer developed the first vaccine for whooping cough. The vaccine was used during the mid-1930 to 1940s but many children were not getting the vaccine until the 1950s, when Congress signed the Vaccine Assistance Act in 1965, to assist in getting the vaccines out on a mass scale.

By the 1930s, 73 percent of American children were exposed to wild pertussis by the age of 10 years (1) and death rates had dropped to a very small percent of children. This decline was due to improved sanitation, better distribution of fruits and vegetables and clean water availability. Another factor is that these generations of children were developing natural immunity to this and other infectious illnesses.

According to the CDC Summary of Notable Diseases, United States 2003, today, Pertussis is rarely fatal. The number of whooping cough cases, however, has been increasing since the 1980s due to the fact that the virus has mutated and children are getting exposed to this new bacteria and do not have natural immunity. According to Barbara Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), the outbreaks in pertussis are the result of a new strain identified as another Bordetella organism – parapertussis, which is a new virulent pathogen that has evolved due to the vaccine.

It appears to be a milder case of the infection but is very difficult to differentiate between the whooping cough for which we vaccinate. Barb continues to say, “The DTaP vaccine given five times to children under age 6 and booster doses for teenagers and adults do not protect against whooping cough caused by B. parapertussis. (2) This was reported in the JAMA, “Whooping Cough Caused by Bordetella Pertussis and Bordetella Parapertussis in an Immunized Population” in 1998 showing that the outbreaks are due to this new strain. This is not new news! (3)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The push for all children and adults to get the DTaP vaccine is being promoted across the country in hospitals, schools and television commercials. The CDC acknowledges that the DTaP vaccine will not protect against the new bacterial strain. Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said about the outbreaks: “The reemergence of pertussis has been attributed to various factors, including increased awareness, improved diagnostics, decreased vaccination coverage, suboptimal vaccines, waning vaccine-induced immunity, and pathogen adaptation … Pathogen adaptation is supported by several observations.” 

The Outbreaks in 2010-Current

The media and most doctors blame the outbreaks on those who are not vaccinating.  The truth is that cases of outbreaks are more common in the vaccinated population.  The current “outbreaks” are no different!  These facts are ignored and this researcher is not happy!  Early 2010, a spike in cases of whooping cough appeared at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, California and Dr. David Witt, infectious disease specialist admits the following, “We started dissecting the data. What was very surprising was the majority of cases were in fully vaccinated children. That’s what started catching our attention.”  This was the largest outbreak in 50 years. Witt had expected to see the illness target un-vaccinated kids, thinking they are more vulnerable to the disease.  He should ask the question, “Why the vaccinated?” This is never addressed and I call this “willful blindness”.  To expose this would publically and open discussions would undermine the whole vaccine program. Barbara Fisher from National Vaccine Information Center acknowledged for years the vaccine hasn’t protected because the bacteria has adapted and is now B pertussis which the vaccine will not protect.  The media continues to use fear and hype to encouraging everyone, including adults and pregnant women, to get their booster shots even though the vaccine will not protect or result in immunity.

Severe Pertussis Cases

In very rare and severe cases, the frequent, violent cough can affect many areas of the body, resulting in hemorrhages, rib fractures, incontinence, hernia, post-cough fainting, or tearing of the vertebral artery. In very young children (12 months and younger), medical attention may be necessary because they do not have the ability to cough up the phlegm that is produced and they could choke and die. It is important to start to boost immunity as soon as one feels that a diagnosis of whopping cough has been made. Some people choose to treat the cough with medications, especially if the child is very young. If concerned, consult with your physician for medical advice.  I also encourage you to consider natural homeopathic and herbal remedies to support strong immunity and build up the immune system.  I mention many natural ways to accomplish this under my “Immunity” section.


  • (1) Make an Informed Vaccine Decision, Mayer Eisenstein, MD, JD, MPH with Neil Z. Miller
  • (2) National Vaccine Information Center, (NVIC) Barbara Fisher
  • (3) JAMA, 1998 Whooping Cough Caused by Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella parapertussis in an Immunized Population.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is the family of the bacteria that causes the respiratory illnesses referred to as whooping cough. The name whooping cough refers to the sound that is made after the violent coughing spells characteristic to the illness.

First Symptoms

The illness will start out with cold-like symptoms for a week or two and then the cough will increase along with a fever, sore throat and increased phlegm. The coughing comes and goes thru ought the day and that is why most people confuse it for a common cold. Most people do not get a diagnosis until the third or fourth week because it looks so similar to other cold-like illnesses. The fever may increase at night and decrease during the day. Many children while fighting the infection will continue to act normal, play during the day, but act a little sleepy and even take frequent naps. Most continue to eat like normal but may throw up after a coughing spell due to the thick mucus that is formed in the bronchial.

Duration of Symptoms

In Europe, it was referred to the 100 day cough because of the long duration of the illness, 4-6 weeks for most but up to 8 weeks for some to recover. The coughing is tiresome and will leave the child feeling exhausted. They may even get lethargic and short of breath. The illness is the longest of all childhood illnesses lasting up to 8 weeks for some. Because coughing takes a lot of energy, the child will sleep more often and the throat may get sore. Night time seems to be harder because the child is lying down and the mucus gets very thick in the throat and coughing spells start and the sleep is interrupted for several weeks. They might turn a little blue or red from the coughing spells. They also may throw up to eliminate the mucus that causes the gagging reflex and irritates the throat. Lack of sleep is one of the worst parts of the illness…both child and parent will have interrupted sleep for several weeks.

Babies Under 12 Months of Age

Because of the production of mucus and phlegm associated with whooping cough, babies under 12 months of age have a difficult time. They also do not have a strong or mature immune system which helps to fight the bacterial illness. Babies this young may need medical attention to help them get through the illness. The doctor may recommend an antibiotic such as Erythromycin and a nebulizer, breathing treatments that release a mist with medication to help with breathing and break up congestion. A nebulizer can also be used at home with natural remedies that are effective for this use.

Reducing Symptoms

There is not much that can be done once a person has whooping cough to shorten the illness. Making the child comfortable, warm baths, warm compresses on the chest, warm liquids and soup broths will help to comfort. Depending on the age, throat lozenges, herbal teas, lemon and honey and gargling with warm salt water may help the sore throat. To help with coughing spells at night, prop the child up on an angle while sleeping to help with the mucus build up in the chest. If the child has a coughing spell and cannot seem to get the mucus out, try to lay the child over your knees, face down and pat the back gently, encouraging the phlegm to drip out of the nose and mouth into a cloth. The body must get the phlegm out as part of the process in healing from the bacterial respiratory illness. Once the child recovers from the illness, they most likely, will have life-time immunity which is a great result. This is not a fun illness but some people must go through it while others never catch it. We are all exposed to it at sometime in life and depending on how capable our immune system is functioning, will depend on how well we recover and how fast. 

How Do You get Pertussis, also known as the Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is typically a childhood disease. Risk of exposure to the bacteria can happen just by breathing in the air of an infected person’s cough or sneeze. Close contact is the number one reason of exposure, and children in schools, on playgrounds and in other public places are at going to be exposed sometime during their life time. One becomes infected about seven to 10 days prior to showing symptoms, so it is hard to know when someone is first exposed or infected with whooping cough.

Pertussis is an Airborne Bacteria

Contracting is quite easy as the infection gets into the body by the airborne bacteria, Bordetella pertussis. The bacteria travels through the respiratory tract, including the lungs, throat and nose, and persist until the bacteria multiply and affect the respiratory tract’s ability to fight the germs. Infants who get pertussis get the infection from parents, older siblings, children who recently got vaccinated or caregivers who might not know they have the infection.

Who Does Pertussis Whooping Cough Effect

Some believe that the reason infants get whopping cough is because they are too young to get fully vaccinated. I believe that this illness is part of the normal childhood illnesses that our children must develop immunity to it in order to prepare them for adulthood! It is true that they have immature immune systems and spend the first 7 – 10 years of life developing immunity. During this time, they will get exposed to many foreign bacteria and viruses. Like most infectious illnesses, it is seen in young children, teenagers and adults.

Vaccine Benefits Fade

The medical field states that the reason teens and adults get the infection are that the vaccine fades with age. Vaccines do not give life-long immunity or protection so this is a very big concern for those in their young adult life who never got the wild pertussis infection. As with any infectious illness, it is wise to get all the information you can about the bacteria, the vaccine risks and any natural health options that are non-invasive and compare them to the medical recommendation.

Whooping Cough Symptoms

The first symptoms in whooping cough develop in about 7 to 10 days but sometimes it takes up to 6 weeks. Typical symptoms may look and feel like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, mild coughing and/or sneezing. Symptoms can also include a sore throat, lethargy and a low-grade fever. After one to two weeks, the coughing can become more severe and cause fits, with the noted “whooping” sound when the person intakes a breath. Infants may also get apnea — a lapse in normal breathing pattern, which can be very frightening. When this happens, consult a physician of choice to see if the child can get some symptomatic relief. Whooping cough is most dangerous for babies 12 months or younger.

While symptoms are difficult to determine at onset, it is necessary to be in tune with your child and keep track of how long they have had a cough, fever or anything relating to the respiratory system. Children will get infectious illnesses…these illnesses are part of life and help to develop immunity. Based on the child’s age, genetic constitution, diet, and overall health, these factors will determine how well a child gets through these illnesses. I recommend that parents do everything to support children as they deal with these illnesses and also promote a healthy immune system so that the child will get the best immune results from the infection. 

Pertussis, referred to as whooping cough, is a childhood illness that has been around for centuries and is caused from a variety of bacteria. For the average case of whooping cough, there is no treatment to shorten the length of the illness, or to reduce the symptoms, which last for several weeks. Early symptoms – sore throat, fever and lethargy – are sometimes disguised as a simple cold or influenza. This will gradually evolve into severe coughing with a high-pitched whooping sound.

The infection will run its course no matter the treatment. Those at high risk, including newborns, the elderly, anyone with a weak immune system and/or those with a severe illness, are the exception and may require further interventions to help the recovery process. Infection from whooping cough usually lasts around six weeks. If severe, it can last even longer.

Anyone in the high-risk category of getting a severe illness, mentioned above, may require medical treatment such as bronchodilators for the deep and lasting cough, steroids to reduce the severity of the infection, or antibiotics to prevent complicating infections. This aggressive medical treatment also goes for those with serious complications from pertussis (which includes pneumonia, bacterial tracheo-bronchitis, respiratory failure and/or encephalopathy). If you or someone you know gets whooping cough and is immune-compromised and having a difficult time with the illness, you may want to consult your medical doctor for possible treatments.

Effective Natural Remedies

Temporary relief from symptoms such as coughing or fever may benefit from alternative methods including natural, at-home remedies. For coughing, cough suppressants, honey and lemon, or herbal tea should soothe the throat. For fever, a lukewarm bath or compress may help keep a child hydrated and offer relief from high fevers. The fever is part of the immune system dealing with the infection and is beneficial for healing. For children who contract the infection, warm baths, a moist heat compress on the chest, rest, hydration, essential oils, herbs and other natural remedies used to boost the immune system may help support the body as it goes through the process of healing.

Some doctors also recommend avoiding dairy products that are known to produce phlegm and make it more difficult to recover, especially if someone is sensitive to casein, which is found in dairy products. Drinking clear liquids low in sugar, such as herbal teas, diluted fruit juices, fruit juice ice pops and warm clear chicken/vegetable broth will help ensure hydration and can be very soothing and comforting. Bottom line, the illness can last for up to 6 weeks and the child may feel good at times and appear well only to revert back to coughing and fever. My observation is that symptoms seem to get worse at nighttime, and propping up a child a little while sleeping may help as well.

Fevers are common and may spike at night. These natural herbs deal with both the cough and immune system: wild cherry bark, black comfrey, horehound, flax seed, rosemary, hyssop, myrrh, red sage, blue violet and ginseng. Use these herbs when available in tea. Also, slippery elm tea with lemon is a good whooping cough remedy.

Fever Reducers

The medical doctor may recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) fever reducer. A common chemical found in many fever reducers like Tylenol is acetaminophen, which is now the topic of much controversy. According to William Shaw PhD., who has researched Acetaminophen found in many fever reducers, it should not be given to anyone who is fighting an illness. He discovered it interferes with the process of healing and fighting the infection, and should be used very sparingly. (1.) The use of acetaminophen found in many fever reducers (Tylenol and Excedrin) may lead to serious liver malfunctions, may reduce antibody production necessary for immunity and may cause injury. (Refer to the Adverse Side-Effects to Acetaminophen article on front page of website).

As with any infectious disease, a healthy immune system is paramount to combat the infection. Typically those with a healthy immune system can follow natural remedies for the symptoms of pertussis and be free from the infection within the normal time frame. Therefore, it is extremely important to keep your immune system as healthy as possible by proper nutrition, drinking plenty of water, exercising and following a healthy lifestyle.

Severe Cases

In severe cases, the antibiotic erythromycin has been given to people with whooping cough to treat the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. The antibiotic works mostly to prevent passing it to others. Usually by the time symptoms of the infection are noticed, it is too late to treat them; therefore, the antibiotic cannot prevent it (unless it is noticed at incubation period, and then it may prevent development of the infection). However, people affected by severe illness or anything affecting their immunity, thereby creating a weak immune system, will need to follow their symptoms closely and follow treatment suggested by a medical professional.


Most children will be exposed to pertussis during their life; depending on how their body works will determine how they deal with the illness. Every child is unique and may respond differently. My oldest son, for whatever reason, was more sensitive to infectious illnesses than my four other children when he was a baby. Teething was hard, chickenpox was hard, and he caught whooping cough. His immune system took longer to mature; and by letting him go through the illnesses, without medical/chemical intervention, he is an amazingly healthy adult. As a new mother, there were times I got scared and questioned my approach. I talked to people who had children and went through similar health challenges but never forgot how powerful the human body and immune system is. Looking back, I have no regrets on how I let him work through the illnesses.

Before considering a vaccine for pertussis, I encourage you to look at the risks with the vaccine and compare them to the benefits of the natural wild pertussis infection that will last a life time. Ultimately, we never really know what our children are being exposed to and a vaccine cannot guarantee 100 percent protection.

Pertussis, called whooping cough, is not typically dangerous; however, in young children and infants, the infection can become difficult because of the coughing associated with the illness. Most children who get whooping cough catch it from people in public areas or by family members who have been exposed. Although many children are fully vaccinated with the pertussis vaccine (DTaP), outbreaks are still common. Most children will contract pertussis when they are between the ages of 3 and 10 years old.

Pertussis is one of the normal childhood illnesses that seem to go in cycles with resurgence every 3 to 5 years. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that, in rare cases and the very young (under 12 months of age), can be fatal. It leads to severe coughing that causes children to make a distinctive whooping sound as they gasp for breath.

Other potential complications may be other respiratory ailments, sleep apnea, needing oxygen (mostly during a coughing spell) and dehydration from fever. Chances are, as an adolescent or adult, the complications are not severe since most will have a healthy immune system able to fight the bacterial infection.

Serious Cases

In children 1 year old and younger, 1 percent reportedly had seizures and one in eight developed pneumonia, according to the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Complications get even worse for infants under 2 months of age: Nine children in 10 in that age group are hospitalized, and one in 100 will die from pertussis complications. The risk of getting pneumonia occurs in about 1 in 5 children under the age of 1 year. Up to 75 percent of infants younger than 6 months old with whooping cough will receive hospital treatment. In this age group, the infection can be life threatening so seek medical attention.


We do not know how many of the infants who die received their first pertussis (DTaP) vaccine or other vaccines that may have contributed to those deaths. This information is not available but warrants further investigation. These children, if not breastfed and getting immunity from mother’s milk, may be just too immature to fight off the infection or may be immune compromised.

Dangers of New Bacterial Strain

Symptoms of the latest whopping cough outbreaks that occurred in the state of California and across the United States in 2010-2011, have been a milder form and not as dangerous. The current vaccine for pertussis (DTaP) will not prevent the illness, as it is a new strain of bacteria responsible for the illnesses. Since the 1980s, whooping cough has increased, mostly because of a new bacterial strain called B parapertussis. According to Barbara Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center, (NVIC) the outbreaks in pertussis are the result of a new strain identified as parapertussis, another Bordetella organism, which is a new virulent pathogen that has evolved due to the vaccine. It appears to be a milder case of the infection but is very difficult to differentiate between the whooping cough for which we vaccinate.

Fisher reported: “The DTaP vaccine, given five times to children under age 6 and booster doses for teenagers and adults does not protect against whooping cough caused by B. parapertussis.” (1) This was also reported in the JAMA, Whooping Cough Caused by Bordetella Pertussis and Bordetella Parapertussis in an Immunized Population, in 1998 (2) showing that the outbreaks are due to this new strain. This new strain seems to be a milder form of the illness but like any pertussis infection, the very young or immune compromised may be at greater risk.

Because pertussis outbreaks occur once every 3 to 5 years, it seems to coincide with the vaccine efficacy wearing off after 3 to 5 years. Even with a vaccination, the virus is still highly contagious. For anyone with a weak immune system or those people not in overall good health, it is suggested to get medical advice to avoid complications. For most adolescents and adults, however, a mild case of pertussis can still cause the annoyance of a constant cough and missing school or work but will result in life-time immunity!

Pertussis is still a highly contagious infectious disease. Though the risk of pertussis has declined drastically since the 1950s, it does seem to come in waves. Therefore, we need to focus on promoting health proactively – or the alternative will be a weakened immune system and vulnerability to all infectious illnesses. 


  • (1) National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), Barbara Fisher
  • (2) JAMA, 1998 Whooping Cough Caused by Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella parapertussis in an Immunized Population ,Qiushui He, MD; Matti K. Viljanen, MD; Heikki Arvilommi, MD; Birgitta Aittanen; Jussi Mertsola, MD

Pertussis is a bacterial illness caused by the Bordetella Pertussis. It can be a severe illness resulting in prolonged coughing spells that can last for many weeks but rarely causes death. It is most dangerous in children under the age of 12 months because they are not able to cough. The coughing spells can make it difficult for a person to eat, drink, and breathe. Because vomiting often occurs after a coughing spell (to rid the body of phlegm), persons may lose weight and become dehydrated. In infants, it can also cause pneumonia and in rare and severe cases, lead to brain damage, seizures and mental retardation.

Pertussis Death by Numbers

From the 17th century and up to the early 19th century, pertussis was considered a killer disease. Outbreaks during the 17th and 18th century were common in Europe. Outbreaks also were common in America and by the 1930s, 73% of all American children under the age of 10 were exposed to pertussis. (1) Before the first vaccine was introduced on a mass scale, death from pertussis had declined more than 75% by 1943. (2)

Before the Bordetella pertussis vaccine became available, the illness was a leading cause of death in infants, and nearly all children developed whooping cough. The vaccine itself cannot be credited with the decline in pertussis deaths. This was also when public sanitation systems were implemented, clean drinking water became available, better distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables and also the focus on personal hygiene was stressed. The death rates were high at the turn of the century until the 1920’s and then they began to steadily drop. Prior to the public improvements and the introduction of the vaccine150,000 and 260,000 cases of this infection were reported annually. In 1900 to 1920, up to 9,000 pertussis related deaths were reported. Even with the public sanitation improvements and the vaccine coverage at 75% – 80%, cases of pertussis have been increasing since the 1980s, with outbreaks every 3 to 5 years in the United States.

Infants 6 months old and younger with pertussis have the highest rate of hospitalization and death because they lack in natural immunity and they cannot cough out the thick phlegm. From 2000 through 2008, 181 persons died from the infection, with 166 of them less than 6 months old. As recently as 2010, the state of California suffered a pertussis “epidemic”, (epidemic- more cases than what would be considered normal based on previous cases). This could be happening due to a few different reasons. Pertussis runs in a 3-5 year cycle and there are outbreaks across the country regardless of the vaccine rate. Not all people have an appropriate immune reaction to the vaccine; vaccines do not result in immunity, more like immune system suppression. With this new outbreak, it is not the same strain that is in the vaccine. The bacteria have mutated and are called B Parapertussis. (3) It is a milder form of pertussis for most people.

Ironically in 2011, California saw no deaths from pertussis, for the first time in 20 years. The state of New Jersey has seen recent cases. Already for 2012, the CDC states that pertussis is being seen in at least a dozen states in the U.S. Still, the number of cases is much lower than in the pre-vaccine era.

Newer Attenuated Vaccine vs. First Pertussis Vaccine

The first pertussis vaccine was a whole-cell live vaccine and one of the most controversial vaccines in the childhood vaccine program. Reports of seizures, convulsions and many other neurological injuries were hitting the vaccine court system. For years, Dr. Mark Geier, geneticist and epidemiologist, reported to the CDC that the vaccine was causing major neurological problems. Other countries changed the pertussis vaccine but the United States continued to use the whole cell vaccine until 1998-2000. Dr. Geier was the physician that worked to attenuate the vaccine currently in use today, acellular DTaP. These vaccines are reportedly associated with fewer mild and moderate adverse reactions when compared with the older (whole-cell DTP) vaccines. There are currently 8 different pertussis (combination) vaccines approved on the market to date. Some are specific for adult use and some are for children.

(Attenuate- vaccine cultivated under conditions that disable their virulent properties, or which use closely related but less dangerous organisms to produce a broad immune response; however, some are bacterial in nature. They typically provoke more durable immunological responses and are the preferred type for healthy adults) (4).

Pertussis Around the World

During the 1970s, widespread concerns about the safety of the older pertussis vaccine led to a rapid fall in immunization levels in the United Kingdom. More than 100,000 cases and 36 deaths due to pertussis were reported during an epidemic in the mid-1970s. In Japan, pertussis vaccination coverage fell from 80 percent in 1974 to 20 percent in 1979. An epidemic occurred in 1979, resulted in more than 13,000 cases and 41 deaths. We cannot compare the death rates from the illness to the injuries caused by the vaccine. This data is not available but I believe that, based on the number of people who were compensated through the Vaccine Compensation System (VCS), the vaccine caused more death and harm than the pertussis illness. Unfortunately, these statistics do not take into consideration the number of deaths in these children who were previously vaccinated with the whole-cell vaccine.

While most cases of pertussis resulting in death are in infants less than 4 months of age, we can assume that these children are immune compromised or just not capable of fighting off the bacterial infection due to immaturity.

Pertussis outbreaks will occur around the world as it is a bacterial infection. Of those who died from it, it is difficult to know how many received a vaccine or other vaccines that may have contributed to the deaths. Reality, we are always going to have children who are born weaker and who will not withstand the various illnesses they get exposed to. The vaccine will not guarantee immunity and comes with its own risks. If you decide to take the vaccine, a booster is required every 5 years or so because it does not offer life-time immunity.

Diseases are continually adapting and mutating…we will never be able to avoid infectious illnesses! It makes much more sense to focus on building and supporting the immune system so that when exposed, we will react appropriately recover the way the human body was intended and build life-time immunity.


  • (1) Make an Informed Vaccine Decision, Parents Guide to Childhood Shots-Mayer Eisenstein, MD, JD, and MPH with Neil Z. Miller
  • (2) Neil Z. Miller, Death Rate and the Pertussis Vaccine
  • (3) JAMA, 1998 Whooping Cough Caused by Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella parapertussis in an Immunized Population ,Qiushui He, MD; Matti K. Viljanen, MD; Heikki Arvilommi, MD; Birgitta Aittanen; Jussi Mertsola, MD
  • (4) Wikipedia – Attenuated Vaccine