Whooping Cough: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment

Whooping Cough: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment

Whooping cough, or Pertussis, is a highly contagious and severe infection which affects the respiratory tract. It’s caused by a bacterium known as Bordetella Pertussis.

How does someone get whooping cough?

A child may contract whooping cough by coming in direct contact with bacteria through secretions from the mouth or nose of an infected person, by directly touching this with their hands. They may also contract the illness by inhaling air droplets expelled by an infected person, usually when coughed or sneezed.

Who suffers from Whooping cough?

Whooping cough is typically present in babies under the age of twelve months, and children aged five to nine years of age.

However, this condition can affect anyone who lives in close proximity to an infected person. The majority of hospitalisations and deaths occur to children under the age of six months.

Once infected, it may take several months of proper treatment to completely recover from whooping cough. If not properly treated, children are at risk of developing serious complication such as pneumonia, fits, apnoea, brain damage and even death.

What are the signs and symptoms of whooping cough?

Initially, a person suffering from whooping cough goes through symptoms similar to the common cold including sore throat, sneezing, and fatigue. Later, symptoms usually associated with whooping cough become prominent, such as episodes of a severe cough, with the signature “whooping” sound during inhalation, which can often lead to the baby vomiting. The patient might also suffer from periods of lack of oxygen, and therefore turn blue.

How is whooping cough diagnosed?

Apart from the signs and symptoms, another way to diagnose whooping cough is to gather a sample of the secretions from the nose and mouth of the patient, and examine it for the presence of Bordetella Pertussis.

What is the treatment for Whooping cough?

Patients suffering from whooping cough are prescribed antibiotics, like azithromycin, to treat their condition. To be most effective, the antibiotics need to be given within the first 21 days of the general symptoms appearing, or the first two weeks of the cough.

Medication such as Paracetamol can also be administered to help treat symptoms of the diseases, like fever.

Those who come into close contact with an infected child may also need to take antibiotics to prevent infection, especially those at high risk of complications. This includes the elderly, anyone who works with young children, pregnant women, anyone with a suppressed immunity, or those with asthma.

How to prevent whooping cough?

Anyone with a weakened immune system such as babies, adults who work with babies and pregnant women are at a high risk of contracting whooping cough. Such individuals should be immunised against whooping cough when required to prevent the spread, as it’s a highly infectious disease which can transmit easily from one person to another.

Vaccination remains the most effective way to control whooping cough in Australia. Booster dose vaccinations are recommended to adults every ten years.

Helpful tip(s)

  • Pregnant women should receive a Pertussis vaccination in their third trimester for each pregnancy as part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule. For each child, the vaccine is funded for:
    • Infants aged 2 months
    • Children aged 18 months
    • Children aged 4 years
    • Year 7 student booster dose
  • In infants less than six months of age, whooping cough can be severe or life threatening. Seek urgent medical attention if your child’s lips or skin go blue, or if they have breathing difficulties associated with coughing

Baby Diseases & Infections



Haemolytic Disease

Oral Thrush



Cystic Fibrosis

Celiac Disease


Respiratory Syncytial Virus


Pink Eye Infection

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Whooping Cough

Slapped Cheek Syndrome

Inner Ear Infection


Congenital Heart Disease


Fragile X Syndrome

Kawasaki Disease


Williams Syndrome