Whooping cough (pertussis) factsheet


Whooping cough is an infection that happens in the lungs that causes forceful coughing. It is also called pertussis. Babies are at high risk of whooping cough, with infants under 6 months of age usually to go to hospital for treatment.

 Signs and symptoms

Whooping cough is very contagious and is spread by coughing, sneezing, and sharing close breathing space with people who are infected.

One of the main signs of whooping cough is a long, forceful period of coughing with a high pitched ‘whoop’ sound when breathing in.

Whooping cough happens in 2 stages.

Stage 1

Cold-like symptoms that last for 1-2 weeks, including:

  • A strong, dry cough
  • low grade fever
  • runny nose.

Stage 2

The ‘whoop’ noise when coughing begins. Your child may appear well in between episodes of coughing. Babies under six months may appear to have periods where they are not breathing, rather than coughing. This stage can last for over 10 weeks depending on how sick your child is.

The forceful coughing and infection can also cause your child to experience:

  • vomiting
  • tightening in the chest
  • difficulty breathing and catching their breath
  • pneumonia
  • redness or blood spots in whites of the eye (scleral haemorrhage)
  • dehydration
  • middle ear infections.

Call your local doctor, or present to the nearest emergency department If your child is showing signs like

  • rapid breathing
  • noisy breathing
  • difficulty breathing.

Call triple zero (000) immediately for an ambulance if your child:

  • stops breathing for longer periods of time
  • has a purple or blue colour around their lips
  • loses consciousness.


Your local doctor will check your child’s symptoms to see if they have whooping cough. They may also take a nasal or throat swab and a blood test.


Antibiotics can be used to treat whooping cough when it is caught early, before 3 weeks. Antibiotics can help to reduce the seriousness of symptoms and to reduce the risk of spreading whooping cough to others.

Treating your child's whooping cough at home will often include:

  • lots of rest
  • small, frequent sips of fluids
  • isolating while infectious, until they have been coughing for over three weeks
  • removing irritants from the home including aerosol sprays and cigarette smoke.

Babies under 6 months of age will often be admitted to hospital for close monitoring as whooping cough can be life-threatening.


Whooping cough immunisation

The best way to protect your child from whooping cough, is to have them immunised as part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP). Immunisation for whooping cough includes five vaccines given at the following ages:

  • 6-8 weeks (2 months)
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 18 months
  • 4 years.

Babies are at higher risk of whooping cough because they are too young to have been fully immunised.

Children between 11 and 13 years old should get a booster dose of the whooping cough vaccine, as the immunity from their earlier vaccinations will get lower as they grow up.

The whooping cough vaccine is also recommended for parents between 20 – 32 weeks of pregnancy and for any person who is going to be in contact with a baby under 6 months old.

Immunity from the whooping cough vaccine will fade with time. It is important to get a booster if it has been over 10 years since your last whooping cough vaccine.

As a parent, you should feel confident reminding friends and family to have the whooping cough vaccine before visiting your baby. This is to make sure your baby is protected from serious illness. Babies can catch whooping cough from older children or adults, who may not realise they are infected.


The best way to prevent whooping cough is make sure that you, your child, and your family are all up to date with immunisations.

Teaching your child good hygiene habits can also reduce the chance of spreading whooping cough to others.

Good hygiene habits include:

  • washing their hands with soap
  • not sharing cups or cutlery with other people
  • wearing a mask in public when sick
  • covering their mouth or using a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

You should also wipe down and disinfect toys and other objects your child uses while they are sick, to prevent the spread of germs.

Last updated Monday 29th January 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024