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Whooping cough is serious in babies under 12 months old.

Whooping cough is serious in babies under 12 months old.
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Whooping cough

3-minute read

Whooping cough (also known as 'pertussis') is a highly infectious infection of the lungs and airways. It is caused by a bacteria.

The disease is most serious in babies under the age of 12 months, particularly in the first few months.

Young babies are most at risk of harm from whooping cough as they have soft airways that can be damaged from the severe coughing bouts. They may not yet have had their whooping cough vaccinations, which make the disease less severe.

Older children and adults, including those who have been vaccinated, can still get whooping cough. While it is not as critically dangerous as it is in small babies, it is still a distressing condition, with the cough lasting up to 3 months. Whooping cough has been called the ‘100 day cough’.

The condition usually begins with a lasting dry and irritating cough that progresses to intense bouts of coughing. Particularly in small children, these bouts can be followed by a distinctive 'whooping' noise as the child breathes in, which is how the condition gets its name, but in many cases the only sign is the hacking cough.

Other symptoms include a runny nose, raised temperature and vomiting after coughing.

Symptoms appear about 7 to 10 days after you are infected. You are infectious from the first signs of the illness until about 3 weeks after coughing starts.

If an antibiotic is given, the infectious period will continue for up to 5 days after starting treatment.

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Added protection for infants

It is recommended that all pregnant women receive a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination during each of their pregnancies. The vaccination is usually given around 28 weeks, but can be given anytime between 20 and 32 weeks. Women who are at risk of having an early delivery should get it at 20 weeks. Having the vaccination before your baby arrives allows time for antibodies to be passed through the mother’s bloodstream. This will help protect your baby from when they are born to when they are able to have their first vaccination at 2 months.

The Pertussis vaccine is available free of charge to eligible people under the National Immunisation Program. Speak to your doctor or antenatal care provider to schedule an appointment.

Fathers, grandparents and anyone else who is likely to come into contact with newborns should see their doctor to get a pertussis booster at least 2 weeks before the baby is born.

Should I keep my child home from school?

Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including whooping cough, and their recommended exclusion periods.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2019


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Pertussis (whooping cough) | The Australian Immunisation Handbook

Information about pertussis (whooping cough) disease, vaccines and recommendations for vaccination from the Australian Immunisation Handbook

Read more on Department of Health website

Whooping cough (pertussis) | Australian Government Department of Health

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease. Symptoms that include fever and long periods of coughing that sound like a whoop. Whooping cough can affect people of all ages but it is more serious for babies. Whooping cough can be prevented by immunisation. Treatment includes antibiotics.

Read more on Department of Health website

Pertussis vaccine | AusVaxSafety

Pertussis vaccine safety Surveillance data Pertussis vaccine safety Surveillance data Pertussis vaccine safety Surveillance data Pertussis vaccine safety Surveillance data Pertussis vaccine safety Surveillance data 18 month booster 4 year booster Pregnant women

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Pertussis - Lab Tests Online AU

When you have persistent, sharp spasms or fits of coughing (paroxysms) that the doctor suspects is due to pertussis (whooping cough) or when you have symptoms of a cold and have been exposed to someone with pertussisThis is a group of tests that are performed to detect and diagnose aBordetella pertussisinfection

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Whooping cough | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is whooping cough? Whooping cough is an infection caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Immunisation Coalition | Whooping Cough - Immunisation Coalition

Whooping Cough (pertussis) is a highly infectious respiratory infection that when passed to infants can be life threatening.

Read more on Immunisation Coalition website

Whooping cough (pertussis) immunisation service | Australian Government Department of Health

Whooping cough vaccines are given as a needle and are only available as a combination vaccine. They can be provided by a variety of recognised immunisation providers. If you're eligible, you can get the whooping cough vaccine at no cost through the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

Read more on Department of Health website

Whooping cough overview - myDr.com.au

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease that causes sudden attacks of coughing that often end in a high-pitched whooping sound. The cough commonly persists for up to 3 months.

Read more on myDr website

Immunisation Coalition | Pregnancy - Immunisation Coalition

Immunisation during pregnancy is vital to protect the mother and unborn child. We recommend the mother and baby receive vaccines for whooping cough (pertussis) and influenza.

Read more on Immunisation Coalition website

Whooping cough - Better Health Channel

The major symptom of whooping cough is a severe cough, which is often followed by a 'whooping' sound.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

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