Pertussis (whooping cough)


Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is primarily a toxin-mediated disease, the bacteria have certain proteins (pertactin and filamentous haemagglutinin) on the surface that help it to attach to the hairs that line the respiratory tract (called cilia).

Once anchored the bacteria release tracheal cytotoxin, which kill and paralyze these small hairs and effect the bodies ability to clear the mucosal secretions. This is why people with pertussis suffer from coughing spells as the body desperately attempts to clear the airways.

Once the bacteria has established, it releases pertussis toxin (PT) and adenylate cyclase toxin (ACT), these work to disrupt the immune system.


Transmission is via droplet infection or direct contact with mucosal secretions. Those with active infections are contagious for up to two weeks after the coughing begins. The incubation period for pertussis is 7 to 10 days.


There are three stages of the disease: catarrhal, paroxysmal, and convalescent.


Pertussis begins as a mild respiratory illness with a runny nose and persistent cough.  During this stage it is indistinguishable from the common cold or influenza and it usually lasts for around two weeks.  The cough is generally worse at night and there is usually a slight fever.


This stage is characterized by recurring episodes of coughing (paroxysms). This lasts for one to six weeks, and up to ten weeks (which largely depends on treatment).  An episode consists of a series of coughs in rapid succession with increasing intensity, one may exhibit eight to ten coughs per breath. The characteristic “whoop” in the final breath is what gives this disease its name, whooping cough.  The coughing spells may end in vomiting or lead to temporary cyanotic (blue) spells due to a lack of sufficient oxygen supply.


Around four weeks after disease onset the convalescence stage begins. This usually lasts from two to six weeks, but can last for months depending on ones immune system and treatment. Coughing episodes become less frequent and are not as severe. 

Homeopathic treatment


There are various homeopathic remedies that can successfully assist with the disease process, shorten duration and severity.

For small children and babies we highly recommend consulting of a homeopathic doctor, registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of Southern Africa. For a list of recommended homeopaths please click here (coming soon).

Homeopath Dr Kate Birch has outlined some of the remedies that can be used. Her full article can be found here.


An excerpt from her article:

"There are many homeopathic remedies which can be used in the treatment of whooping cough depending on the stage of the illness and the symptoms the child is expressing. With the correct remedy contracted whooping cough can be resolved relatively quickly, i.e. in 2-10 days, thereby reducing the level of suffering and length of suffering. While antibiotics are used in conventional medicine to kill the bacteria. If the whoop has entered the spasmodic stage of the illness, in contrast to the correct homeopathic remedy, they will not change the course of the disease.

  • Use of whooping cough nosode (Pertussin) in ascending potencies as outlined on the STATUS SHEET for a standard prevention protocol (See schedule below). 

  • Doses are to be given over a few month period starting with 200C, repeating a triple dose of the 200C the following week then a triple dose of 10M followed one month later with a second round of the 10M.

  • Pertussin may be used as a prophylaxis remedy for whooping cough, and may in fact abort a case of recently contracted whooping cough.

  • Use of Drosera, preventatively or if the disease is contracted.

  • These two remedies (Pertussin and Drosera) can be used if there is known exposure or at the first signs of the disease and correspond to fluctuating temperatures, or runny nose and watery eyes, respectively. These remedies can be alternated if you are unsure, repeating the remedy that offers the most relief.

  • Various other remedies in active disease: Anacardium, Ipecacuanha, Coccus cacti, Corralium Rubrum, Cuprum It is advisable to consult a homeopath for the best remedies. The goal of Homeoprophylaxis (HP) is to introduce into the human system the energetic components of particular diseases in order to stimulate the immune system. Homeopathic Nosodes, such as Pertussin, are potentized preparations of the disease germ or discharges produced in response to whooping cough. Upon repetition of the particular remedy it is understood that some aspect of susceptibility to the particular disease has been fulfilled."

Herbal treatment

1 – Ginger

2 – Turmeric

3 – Raw honey

4 – Coltsfoot

5 – Bone broth

Inhalation steam baths and chest rubs


6 – Thyme oil & herb

7 – Oregano oil & herb

8 – Peppermint oil

9 – Eucalyptus oil

Echinacea Coneflowers

“For every human illness, somewhere

in  the world there exists a plant which is

the cure.  I believe that there is a healing potential locked inside plants which is integral with their evolution, just as  it is

part of human evolution to learn to tap

this wonderful gift of Nature.”

— Rudolf Steiner

1 – Ginger

Ginger is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. Its anti-inflammatory effect helps reduce discomfort and the analgesic effect helps sooth the pain in an irritated painful throat. It is also an expectorant, which helps to loosen the mucous. Its effect on the body produces heating and 

cleansing and primarily targets the digestive and respiratory systems. Ginger can be infused to make a warm drink or tea, or one could make a poultice and apply this to the back and chest. Another useful way to use this herb is to add some slices to the bath. Use a muslin cloth or old stocking or sock to secure the garlic and run it under the tap, allowing the gorgeous aroma to infuse the bath water.

2 – Turmeric

Curcumin, an important constituent of turmeric, is a powerful antibacterial and it can restrict the growth of bacteria. It is also an antiviral and antifungal.

3 – Raw Honey

Honey is a wonderful remedy and science is starting to acknowledge its effectiveness.  The guidelines from the National Institute for Health (NIH) and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) have been developed after looking at the best available scientific evidence and recommends honey over antibiotics as the first line therapy

A great homemade cough mixture can be made by pouring some raw honey over chopped up onions. Over an hour or so the onion juices are drawn out into the honey creating a runny syrupy like remedy. You can add other herbs to this like  garlic, thyme, ginger or whatever you have on hand. 

*Due to the slight risk of botulism we are cautioned against the use of honey in children under the age of one.


Whooping cough can be eased with the help of propolis tincture (a good quality, preferably 30% tincture). Add 30 drops (less the younger the person is) of propolis tincture in a cup of warm juniper tea or warm water. Gargle well and then you swallow the liquid (this is important). (Benefits of Bee Propolis)


4 – Coltsfoot

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia notes the actions of coltsfoot as an expectorant - which helps to loosen the mucous, an antitussive - to help relieve the persistent cough, a demulcent - to soothe and protect irritated or inflamed tissue and anticatarrhal effect - the ability to remove mucus from the respiratory system.

Coltsfoot is indicated for bronchitis, laryngitis, pertussis and asthma, with specific indications for chronic spasmodic bronchial cough, and may be combined with horehound (Marrubium vulgare) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus) in irritating coughs. 

5 – Bone broth

Many may underestimate the powerful effect of food on our health. Bone broth ( from organic, grass fed animals) gives us a tremendous boost by providing much needed nutrients during times of illness and stress. Dr Axe lists all the benefits in his article here.

6 – Thyme oil and thyme herb

This is a great natural remedy for a whooping cough as it has antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, antispasmodic, expectorant and calming properties.  It can be used in in steam inhalation and is also very helpful as a tea with honey (into which you can add a good dose of sodium ascorbate - see below). Thyme supports the immune and respiratory, digestive, nervous systems. 

7 – Oregano oil and oregano herb (10+ years)

Oregano oil is a potent antibacterial, it is also an anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic. Its anti-tussive and expectorant properties, helps to improve the efficiency of the respiratory tract by loosening up and eliminating a buildup of mucus. Use in a steam bath or use the herb in a tea. 

8 – Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil contains menthol and exhibits antibacterial and antiviral properties and has anti-tussive effect. It has a soothing effect and helps relieve nausea and headaches. A few drops in the room helps, but if using homeopathic remedies this powerful oil may effect the effectiveness of the homeopathic preparations. In chest rubs, only diluted in carrier oil and for children over three.

9 – Eucalyptus oil

"Eucalyptus is one of the most effective essential oils for coughs because it works as an expectorant, cleansing the body of the micro-organisms and toxins." (Dr Axe). Cineole is one of the main active components, which has been studied. It not only has antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, but also exhibits immuno-regulatory effects.

10 – ​Steam Inhalation and chest rubs:

You can use one or a combination of herbs and/or the following essential oils, or diffused oils for inhalation, or in making a chest rub. Avoid products containing petroleum-based rubs. Know whether you have a diffused oil or essential oil, which is very potent.

A great way to use herbs is to create a home style herb (e.g. thyme or chamomile for children) infused steam tent a few times a day. Place some dried herbs in boiling water (around a cup of herbs to 3 litres of water) and allow it to steep for ten minutes. Then, checking that it is not too hot, sit the patient over the bowl and use a towel to create a tent over the person's head and let them breathe in the refreshing steam.


Chest rub: Use a carrier oil (olive, almond, coconut) or cream (shea butter) (or mixture) and drops of essential oils - one, or a combination

IMPORTANT NOTE: The younger the child, the weaker you make it.  


BABIES - word of caution

0 - 3 months – no essential oils

3 - 6 months – you cannot do steam inhalation with babies, but can use a drop of an appropriate essential oils in a humidifier. There are only a few essential oils that you can safely use for babies 3 months and older and these are: lavender, chamomile, calendula

One drop per 30g of carrier oil.

After 6 months – the range of oils increases, but remains limited. Diffused oils are safer for babies and children because they are less potent. (A calendula or chamomile oil made especially for babies is safe as these are usually specifically diffused for use with babies, even newborns, but never for taking internally.

Home-made vapour rub - Dr Axe

For babies and young children you can adapt the recipe with oils that are age appropriate

Vitamin C treatment

Dr Suzanne Humphries has successfully treated pertussis with her vitamin C approach, a summary of which can be found in our Summary of Dr Humphries Vitamin C Treatment for Pertussis.  There you will also find a link to her full article which you are encouraged to read.

The early progression of cough


The cough will become more regular and predictable, first at night. You may get coughs every hour, on the hour. This is because it takes around an hour for the mucus to pool deeper inside the lungs.

Write down time of cough spell at start of coughing spell to see if pattern establishes. This noting down will be your memory of progression of the disease. Once the cough is established, at the end of some coughs, fairly thick mucus might come up. Healthy babies, toddlers, and older children with whooping cough look quite normal between the telltale coughing spells.


General care of the child

1.  RECORD IN WRITING – watch the child carefully throughout the day, and write down everything, including how you are feeling:

  • If the child feels hot, go ahead take the temperature.

  • Under no circumstances use cough suppressants of any kind, or acetaminophen (paracetamol), fever reducers, or cold medicines. (Like Empaped, Lotem, Neurofen, Panamor etc)

  • Parents have been conditioned to fear fever, but fever is the body’s innate mechanism to deal with disease.

  • However, know that whooping cough bacteria do not permeate into the blood and fevers are not usual in any phase of whooping cough.

  • If the temperature is above normal, other infections should be considered.

  • I have never seen an secondary infection in sodium ascorbate treated children, but in CONVENTIONALLY treated people this can happen, most probably as a result of subclinical scurvy, white blood cell under-function, and ANTIBIOTIC use which can skew the microbiome.

  • Keep well hydrated!


2.  KEEP CHILD AT HOME (and SIBLINGS) – Let the child play at home (and try and keep play calm) - if they run or exert themselves, they will cough.


3.  KEEP THE CHILD AWAY FROM SUSCEPTIBLE PEOPLE – Keep the child away from susceptible people, pregnant women, and siblings of very young babies until they are no longer contagious. Contagion in naturally treated children is between onset of catarrhal  phase and 6 weeks. If the cough is still roaring at 4 weeks, assume the child is still contagious, unless they’ve tested negative.


4.  HIGH DOSES OF VITAMIN C – One of the biggest problems, especially in toxin-producing illnesses like B. pertussis, is that people are hesitant to use the high doses that are needed. The vitamin C intake has to increase to keep up with the body’s need for it.


5. VITAMIN C - how it helps and dosing:

  • Ascorbate, being the antioxidant portion of whole vitamin C, is an electron donor, neutralizes toxins in the blood, and will stabilize the child.

  • The ascorbate will not kill the bacteria, but it will mobilize the neutrophils and phagocytes (the immune cells that process the infection), which grind to a halt without it, because ascorbate is their fuel [28],[29]. (references on Dr Humphries website.) 

  • The bacterial toxin forms a barrier to the immune system. In using ascorbate, you are clearing out the barrier and allowing the immune system to get in and deal with the bacteria.

  • Three of the many fundamental functions of ascorbate are strengthening cellular and vascular collagen bonds, detoxifying the body, and keeping mitochondria running properly.

  • The child on high dose ascorbate will have LESS serious symptoms, because you are keeping the body as clear of toxin as possible, and the immune pathways functioning properly.

  • Three of the many fundamental functions of ascorbate are strengthening cellular and vascular collagen bonds, detoxifying the body, and keeping mitochondria running properly. The very common reason why people who are ill for a long time have extreme lethargy—is lack of vitamin C [30]. (references on Dr Humphries website.)

  • If you are breastfeeding, you will have to take it yourself and/or give it to the child until the coughing stops. It is better for you to give vitamin C directly to babies, rather than trying to guess how much is coming through breast milk. Even if you take high doses, you will not get the dose you need into the baby.


6.  TYPES OF VITAMIN C TO HAVE AVAILABLE, DOSAGES & HOW TO ADMINISTER  – please read our article Vitamin C: Notes, types and dosages

Herb Plants

South African Sources of vitamin C

Sodium ascorbate

Faithful to Nature, Gaia organics brand here

Vidalife, Gaia organics brand here 

Liposomal Vitamin C

Supremo C brand here.

Invest in Health, Liveon labs brand (as per Dr Humphries recommendation) here

Vidalife, Liveon labs brand ( as per Dr Humphries recommendation) here.

Vidalife, Lipolife brand, sachets here

Vidalife, Lipolife brand, bottle here