Diseases Home > Whooping Cough in Adults

Contrary to popular belief, infants and children are not the only ones who get whooping cough. In adults, whooping cough has become more common. In fact, adults and adolescents with whooping cough accounted for more than half of reported cases of the illness in recent years. Symptoms of whooping cough in adults can differ from those seen in children and are typically milder. Adults with whooping cough may experience complications such as difficulty sleeping, urinary incontinence, and pneumonia.

Whooping Cough in Adults: An Overview

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a severe respiratory system infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is characterized by severe coughing spells that may end in a "whooping" sound when the infected person inhales.
Whooping cough symptoms can last for weeks to months, and it has been termed the "100-day cough" because of its long duration and severity.
Whooping cough affects people throughout the world. While people may develop whooping cough at any age, most deaths and complicated infections occur in very young infants.
The perception is that whooping cough only affects infants and children; however, whooping cough in adults and adolescents accounted for more than half of reported cases of the condition in recent years. Yet whooping cough is still underrecognized among adults.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough in Adults

Symptoms of whooping cough in adults can differ from those seen in children. In several cases, adults have milder whooping cough symptoms than those seen in children. In some cases, adults with whooping cough may have no symptoms at all.

Whooping Cough in Adults: Transmission

Even though whooping cough in adults may be milder, those who are infected may transmit the disease to other susceptible people, including unimmunized or underimmunized infants. Adults are often found to have the first case of the infection in a household with multiple cases of pertussis.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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