Alternative title: Whooping cough

What is it?

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a serious, highly contagious, respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

What to look for

Pertussis can be very serious in young children, especially those under 6 months of age. It usually begins just like a cold, with a runny nose and sometimes a mild fever.  Coughing then develops, which may occur in bouts, sometimes followed by a deep gasp (or “whoop”). Hospital admission may be required.

Complications can include pneumonia, encephalitis/encephalopathy and brain damage. There are reported cases of death from Pertussis infection.

How is it transmitted?

The Bordetella pertussis bacterium is highly infectious and is spread by coughing and sneezing.


Previous infection with Pertussis does not provide lifelong immunity.

Immunisation is the most effective form of prevention. Booster doses of the vaccine are required throughout life to ensure protection is maintained.

Pertussis immunisation is available for free for the following individuals:

  • Infants- doses at 6 weeks, 4 months and 6 months
  • Children- booster doses at 18 months and 4 years
  • Adolescents- 12 – 13 years of age
  • Pregnant women- 28 – 32 weeks gestation
  • Partners of pregnant women who are at least 28 weeks pregnant (if they have not received a dose in the last 10 years)
  • Parents/guardians of a baby under 6 months of age (if they have not received a dose in the last 10 years)



Refer to interview with Dr Nigel Crawford on the effects and prevention of Pertussis HERE

Better Health Channel Whooping cough

Australian Immunisation Handbook (10th edition)

MVEC Maternal Immunisation

RCH kids health info fact sheet


Reviewed by: Mel Addison (SAEFVIC Research Nurse), Rachael McGuire (SAEFVIC Research Nurse)
Date: January 2018
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.