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Whooping Cough


Whooping cough (pertussis) is a serious, contagious, respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The infection causes a long coughing illness that can persist for 6-7 weeks or sometimes longer. It is most common and serious in infants and children, but can infect adults as well.  



Whooping cough begins like a cold and then the characteristic cough develops. The 'whoop' is due to a deep breath taken at the end of a bout of coughing. Blocked or runny nose, sneezing and a mild fever along with poor appetite, fatigue and dehydration are all associated symptoms.  Typical symptoms include:  


  • Development of a severe cough that generally occurs in bouts and is worse in the evening,  
  • Vomiting or choking after a coughing burst,  
  • Apnoea (no breathing) is common in newborns and is noticeably seen with lips or mouth turning blue.  



Whooping cough is most serious in babies under 12 months of age as the symptoms can be severe or life threatening.  

In babies, the infection can sometimes lead to  

  • Pneumonia,  
  • Inflammation,
  • Brain damage (due to lack of oxygen if the child stops breathing),
  • Haemorrhage (bleeding),
  • Convulsions, and/or  
  • Death.      


Older children and adults who get whooping cough are better equipped to deal with the symptoms. They still need to be careful as they can spread it to others, including babies.      



Newborn babies are not immune until they have had their whooping cough vaccines. The National Immunisation Program Schedule allows for free whooping cough vaccines (in conjunction with other potentially dangerous diseases) to be available to Australian children at different ages. It is important to follow the full schedule of vaccines and boosters to be fully protected.      



As with managing a cold, getting a lot of rest and having enough fluids is important to ensure that you don’t impede recovery. As whooping cough is so contagious it is important that if you or someone in your family is infected that you take all the required precautionary actions, which could mean staying away from work, school or childcare until no longer infectious.  


As whooping cough is a bacterial infection it is important to see your doctor for correct diagnosis and medical treatment.      



The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.  



Better Health Channel  

NSW Health