Pertussis Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis

Pertussis is diagnosed by taking into consideration if you have been exposed to pertussis and by doing a:

  • Medical interview
  • Physical examination 
  • Laboratory testing – this involves taking a sample of secretions from the back of the nose 
  • Blood test

Treatment

Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics in its early stages.  If symptoms are present for more than 3 weeks in teens and adults, antibiotics do not help.  Early treatment may make your infection less severe and can also help prevent spreading the disease to close contacts.  Treatment after three weeks of illness is unlikely to help because the bacteria are gone from your body, even though you may still have symptoms.

Persons with symptoms consistent with pertussis, in whom there is reason to suspect they have pertussis, are treated with antibiotics.

Those who have been in close contact with someone who has pertussis but are without symptoms are also treated.  A close contact is someone who has had face-to-face contact with a person with pertussis. Close contacts can also be defined as:

  • people who have had direct contact with respiratory, oral, or nasal secretions of a symptomatic patient
  • people who have shared the same confined space in close proximity to a symptomatic patient for longer than one hour.
  • people at high risk for severe disease following exposure to pertussis with less exposure to a symptomatic patient

    • infants < 1 year old
    • persons with immunodeficiency conditions
    • chronic lung disease such as respiratory insufficiency or cystic fibrosis

Treatment involves taking  an antibiotic.  The most commonly used antibiotics are macrolide antibiotics  such as erythromycin, azithromycin [Zithromax], clarithromycin [Biaxin];  or sulfa-based drugs such as sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim [Bactrim].