Alternative title: Whooping cough

What is it?

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a serious, contagious, respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis

What to look for?

Pertussis usually begins just like a cold, with a runny nose, tiredness and sometimes a mild fever.  Coughing then develops, which may occur in bouts, sometimes followed by a deep gasp (or “whoop”), especially in unvaccinated children. People may vomit after a bout of coughing.

Pertussis can be very serious in young children, especially those under 6 months of age. Complications can include pneumonia, brain damage from lack of oxygen suffered during bouts of coughing, and death.

Older children and adults tend to have a less serious illness, but they can still have persistent coughing that may continue for several weeks, regardless of treatment. During the recovery, the cough gradually decreases, but can take weeks to disappear.

How is it transmitted?

The Bordetella pertussis bacterium is spread by airborne droplets from the upper respiratory tract (when the infected person coughs or sneezes) and is highly infectious.
A person is infectious for the first 21 days of their cough or until they have had five days of a 10-day course of antibiotics.
In Victoria, most reports of whooping cough currently occur in adults over 20 years of age. Recent research has shown that parents and family members are the main source of whooping cough infection in babies.

Am I already protected?

No, you or your children may not necessarily be protected.  Maternal antibodies do not protect newborns against infection unless you receive a vaccine during pregnancy. Severity is greatest in young infants while milder and cases occur in all age groups. Incomplete immunisation, waning immunity and the fact that vaccine is not 100% effective, means that cases continue to occur in older children and adults. Lifelong immunity is not guaranteed, even after clinical disease.

Vaccination to prevent infection?

Children need to follow the full schedule of vaccines to be fully protected.

Protection against whooping cough is available under the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Immunisation against pertussis is achieved using combination vaccines.

In Victoria, immunisation against whooping is free of charge for:

  • vaccine doses given at 6-weeks, plus 4 and 6 months of age,
  • booster doses at 18 months, 4 years and @ high school aged 12-15 years.

Vaccination is also recommended for:

  • adults planning a pregnancy
  • parents of infants
  • other household carers, including grand-parents
  • adults who work with young children, including child-care workers and health-care workers.

The vaccine does not give lifelong protection against pertussis, and protection is sometimes incomplete (not completed vaccination series). Immunity provided by the vaccine decreases after six to ten years.

Special risk groups

Special risk patients such as preterm infants are at increased risk of pertussis (whooping cough), so it is important they receive their infant vaccines on time. A whooping cough booster is also given after completion of chemotherapy. It also important that carers of special risk patients receive a whooping cough booster to minimise the risk of transmitting the infection.


Please see the attache link for an interview with Dr Nigel Crawford on the affects of Whooping cough and what you can do to prevent it. Dr Nigel Crawford on Whooping Cough

Health Direct Australia

The Better Health Channel has some detailed information and links regarding whooping cough

Department of Health; Q&A for health professionals

More details on the epidemiology of pertussis (whooping cough) and the available vaccines are outlined in the Australian Immunisation Handbook (10th edition)

Reviewed by: Nigel Crawford (Paediatrician, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne)
Date: July 2014
Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.
You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.

Melbourne University

Welcome to MVEC

The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) is a new web-based initiative, providing up-to-date immunisation information for healthcare professionals, parents and the public.

It is a collaboration between The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and its Melbourne Children’s campus partners (Murdoch Children's Research Institute and The University of Melbourne) and Monash Health.

MVEC aims to address common queries around vaccines and to promote the benefits of immunisation for both children and adults.