Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Whooping cough causes and diagnosis

Whooping cough is caused by Bordetella pertussis, a type of bacteria. It’s passed on through close personal contact, sneezing and coughing.

The bacterium infects the lining of the airways, mainly the windpipe (trachea) and the two airways that branch off from it to the lungs (the bronchi).

When the Bordetella pertussis bacterium comes into contact with the lining of these airways, it multiplies and causes a build-up of thick mucus. It's the mucus that causes the intense bouts of coughing as your body tries to expel it.

The bacterium also causes the airways to swell up, making them narrower than usual. As a result, breathing is made difficult, which causes the 'whoop' sound as you gasp for breath after a bout of coughing.

Whooping cough diagnosis

See your doctor as soon as possible if you think you or your child may have whooping cough.

Your doctor may suspect whooping cough by asking about your or your child’s symptoms. They will confirm the diagnosis by taking a swab from the back of the nose or throat.

Some people may need a chest X-ray to see if they also have developed pneumonia.

Young babies

If a young baby has suspected whooping cough they need to be tested for it straight away, and if concerned your doctor may refer them to hospital. This is because the disease can be severe in babies.

Last reviewed: May 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 145 results

Whooping cough

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

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough (which is sometimes also called pertussis) is a serious infection that usually causes a long coughing illness. In babies, the infection can be life threatening.

Read more on NSW Health website

Immunise - Whooping Cough (pertussis)

Whooping Cough (pertussis) Page last updated: 23 February 2016 Whooping Cough (pertussis)is an extremely contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteriumBordetella pertussis

Read more on Department of Health website

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease that can be a life threatening infection in babies.

Read more on WA Health website

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough affects people of all ages. It can be especially serious for babies. Vaccination reduces the risk of infection.

Read more on NSW Health website

Whooping cough overview -

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease that causes sudden attacks of coughing that often end in a high-pitched whooping sound.

Read more on myDr website

Whooping cough self-care -

Whooping cough is an infection caused by bacteria, is more common in children under 5 years, and can have serious consequences. Find out what products are available for whooping cough.

Read more on myDr website

Whooping cough booster at 18 months

The National Immunisation Program has been updated to include a whooping cough (pertussis) booster for children at 18 months of age.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Kids' Health - Topics - Whooping cough

Pertussis (say per-tuss-iss), or whooping cough as it is usually known, is an infection which affects the nose, throat and lungs.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Whooping cough reminder for pregnant women

With reports of whooping cough on the rise, pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated during their third trimester to protect their unborn baby.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo