Whooping cough (sometimes called pertussis) is a serious respiratory infection that causes a long coughing illness. In babies, the infection can sometimes lead to pneumonia and occasionally brain damage and can be even life threatening. Older children and adults can get whooping cough and can spread it to others, including babies.
Whooping cough can just be an annoying cough for adults and older children but for babies it can sometimes be life threatening. Severity is closely related to a baby's age. Newborns and premature infants are at greatest risk. Whooping cough in babies can lead to:
Some babies need treatment in hospital and some require treatment in intensive care. Older children don't usually have life-threatening infections and only rarely require hospitalisation.
Older people can develop pneumonia (especially smokers or in people with asthma). Other complications from repeated severe coughing can include bleeding into the whites of the eyes, fainting or dizziness, urinary incontinence, rib fractures and strained chest wall muscles.
Whooping cough booster is also recommended for:
If you need a tetanus booster, ask if you can have the booster that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis) all in one (dTpa vaccine) rather than just tetanus alone.
A person with whooping cough can spread it to others in the first 3 weeks of illness. Bacteria coughed into the air can be inhaled by babies, children, or adults nearby. These people are then in danger of getting whooping cough, usually about a week later. It spreads easily through families, childcare centres and schools, so it's important to act fast.
Anyone with symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. Your GP can test for whooping cough. Early diagnosis is especially important for new parents and people who have regular contact with babies.
If whooping cough is detected early enough, your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics. After 5 days of antibiotic treatment, enough bacteria are killed to stop spread to others, although their cough can linger for weeks.
Without antibiotics, people with whooping cough can spread the infection in the first 3 weeks.
In some situations, other people who have been in contact with an infectious person may also need antibiotics to help prevent them getting whooping cough, especially if they are babies or if they have close contact with babies. This is called prophylaxis.
People diagnosed with whooping cough should stay away from work, school or childcare until no longer infectious. Ask your doctor for a medical certificate and find out when it's safe to return.
You don't want to pass whooping cough on. It's a good idea to stay away from others if you're coughing and especially stay away from babies.