Whooping cough is a respiratory illness which has recently been reported to have increased in incidence. It is also known as ‘pertussis’, after the bacteria which causes it, Bordetella pertussis.

In most children and adults it is just a real nuisance – it causes a ‘cold’ for 1-2 weeks, followed by a persistent all day long cough, which can last up to 8 weeks. There is no effective treatment for it, although panadol and cough syrup might relieve the symptoms. In some people, the cough makes a ‘whoop’ noise, which gives it the name, but this is not always present.

It is important because it can cause a very serious infection in babies, and even death. Babies who get whooping cough before they are 6 months old have a 25% chance of a serious illness with a complication such as apnea (attacks of not breathing), pneumonia, pnuemothorax (burst lung), rib fractures and seizures. 1 in 100 babies who get whooping cough will die.

Whooping cough is only prevented by vaccination. Unfortunately, some people do not believe in having vaccinations, and can be a cause of a spread or epidemics of the disease. About 10% of the population is not vaccinated, and in some suburbs it is as high as 20%.

Babies are not fully vaccinated against whooping cough until they are six months old. The vaccine prevents 85% of cases of whooping cough, and in the remainder who do get it, the disease is usually mild. The chance your baby could get whooping cough is reduced if everyone who comes into contact with the baby is vaccinated against whooping cough. Pregnant mums can be vaccinated from 27 weeks in their pregnancy and dads/partners and other close family members such as grandparents can be vaccinated by their GP.

If you have any questions about your whooping cough vaccine, your GP, obstetrician or midwife will be able to provide further information

Thank you to Obstetrician Dr Vicki Nott for providing the information for this post.