Whooping Cough Treatment and Quarantine

By Claire Sullivan

Treatments for Whooping Cough

There were many different treatments for whooping cough, more commonly known as chin cough, kink cough, or hooping cough, in London during the late 19th century. Many children were given domestic remedies whose recipes had been passed down from earlier generations. Others were given syrups and concoctions sold on the market.

An example of an older remedy for whooping cough can be found in a Mary Kettilby‘s A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick, and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses (1734):

Hyssop has traditionally been used to treat respiratory infections, and is believed to act by increasing secretions in the lungs. The use of it in older remedies for whooping cough suggests that people believed that phlegm needed to be expelled from the body to cure whooping cough.

Brown glass bottle of cough mixture, London, England, 1925-1.
Credit: Science Museum, LondonCC B

Another remedy was created by C J Hewlett and Son Limited. It was initially used to help bronchitis, but also used to aid chronic coughs and whooping cough. This concoction consisted of several different herbs and plants, as well as slow releasing morphine. They named the concoction MIST. TUSSI RUB. CONC., which were abbreviations of Latin terms used by apothecaries and pharmacists. MIST., being short for mistura or “mixture”; RUB. Short for rubra or “red”; TUSSI., short for tussive or “cough.”  The label reads as “CONCENTRATED RED COUGH MIXTURE.”

Another treatment recommended by Dr. H. Richardière in his textbook Whooping-Cough of 1893 was quinine, either given orally or by hypodermic injections. The salts of quinine commonly used were sulphate and tannate. More specifically, they were what caused the stomach to fatigue from the harsh coughing when accompanied by a lavement. Lavement, meaning cleaning or bathing in French, was to be done before the usage of quinine with either water or a medical way. The medical way was more commonly done to rid the intestines completely before the stomach could fully fatigue itself (Whooping-Cough).

One of the most important ways to treat whooping cough as mentioned in several Medical Officer of Health Reports, like Edmonton in 1905, was to make absolutely certain that the child never took cold when suffering. The child was to be put in a bed within an extremely warm, well ventilated room, breathing pure, clean air.

The Medical Officer of Health in the borough of Acton in 1896, claimed the mortality of the female sex who contracted whooping cough often outnumbered that of the male, regardless of the treatment.

Quarantine for Whooping Cough

Children were often quarantined for up to a week until the infection ceased to produce mucus and the coughing halted (Deptford 1914). In the borough of Hackney in 1899, the Public Health Committee issued a bulletin in the town hall that listed 8 precautions on how to prevent the spread of whooping cough. The first one mentioned that if a child has a very frequent cough that ends in retching or vomiting, they should be isolated in a room away from the remaining family members. The child was also to be kept apart from other children and school for approximately 6 weeks to ensure the infection does not spread. The family members living in the same house as the child were to keep a safe distance from the infected patient and make sure they took health precautions.

After the patient was cured, everything that could be washed was to be washed thoroughly with boiling water and soap. The entire room was to be disinfected, as well as keeping the windows of the room open for 3 days to allow proper ventilation (Edmonton 1905). In the boroughs of Coulsden and Purley in 1956, the Council arranged disinfections even when it was not essential to the public health by providing the disinfection of bedding for only 1 pound and to have rooms disinfected for a low cost.

Chart from the borough of Willesden in 1904 that show the periods of incubation, quarantine and infectiousness of several common diseases.
Credit: Wellcome Library Medical Officer of Health Reports

The Medical Officer of Health report in the borough of Finchley in 1894, stated that the likely cause for the spread of this particular malady was through Elementary Schools. The author of the report proposed to seek out the co-operation of the School Teachers within the district in an attempt to detect cases in the early stages and prohibit the child from coming to school. After the boroughs of Lambeth in 1904 and Wandsworth in 1910 experienced a severe epidemic of whooping cough, pamphlets were left at every house where a whooping cough case was notified. These pamphlets consisted of ‘Precautions Against Whooping Cough’, ranging from infectious facts, to what to do if a child is infected with whooping cough, as well as disinfection tips.

The Medical Officer of Health for Camberwell in 1924 noted that cards were handed out to all houses by the Public Health Department, giving information about the infectiousness of the disease and cautions for parents. The first thing it mentions: it is wrong for parents to regard whooping cough of trifling importance and that there have been many deaths due to the foolishness of this type of reasoning. It mentions that the first thing you must do is call a doctor immediately and inform the Medical Officer of Health to come by and have a look to determine if hospitalization is necessary. Tips on preventing the spread of infections are also stressed significantly and that the Council’s disinfectors, by application, will disinfect all households after the child has been cured.

The borough of Hillingdon in 1971 experienced a random spike in the number of reported cases. The medical report states however, that this apparent sign of whooping cough could have easily been mistaken for paroxysmal cough rather than whooping cough itself. Since 1969, this borough’s Public Health Laboratory Service had been working simultaneously with the health departments throughout the country to survey the efficacy of the whooping cough vaccine. Occasionally, the department’s weekly bulletin to family doctors had a reminder that immediate notification was needed for any possible cases of whooping cough, to increase the chance of effective quarantining before the infection can spread.


MOH Acton 1896

MOH Camberwell 1924

MOH Coulsdon and Pursley 1956

MOH Edmonton 1905

MOH Finchley 1894

MOH Hackney 1899

MOH Hillingdon 1971

MOH Lambeth 1904

MOH Wandsworth 1910

MOH Willesden 1904

Kettilby, Mary, A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery for the Use of All Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful Nurses. By Several Hands, 1st edn (London: Printed for Mary Kettilby, sold by Richard Wilkin, 1724)

Cordials, Unguents, and Plasters: Stocking the Early Modern Medical Cabinet

Rennie, Claire, “The Treatment of Whooping Cough in Eighteenth-Century England

Richardiere, H, Whooping-Cough, Volume I., translated by Joseph Helfman, 149-153. Paris, France (1894): George S. Davis .

Weston, Robert. “Whooping Cough: A Brief History to the 19th Century.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History29, no. 2 (2012): 329–49.