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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Whooping cough (pertussis)


Dial 111 and ask for an ambulance if your tamaiti (child):

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease caused by the germ (bacteria) Bordetella pertussis. It's easily passed on through coughing and sneezing. You can pass it on for three to four weeks from when you start coughing.

Whooping cough can affect people of any age but young pēpi (babies) and tamariki (children) are more likely to have severe symptoms and develop complications.

There is a vaccine to protect against whooping cough, which tamariki get as part of the childhood vaccination programme. The vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women and others who will be in contact with newborn pēpi.

Symptoms of whooping cough

In the first few days you'll have cold-like symptoms before developing a cough. You may have severe coughing bouts during which you may become breathless, red in the face, may sound as if you're choking and possibly vomit.

Sometimes you whoop as you breathe in after coughing.

Small pēpi do not usually whoop but may go blue or vomit with bouts of coughing.

The cough may last for up to three months.

Diagnosing whooping cough

If you think you or your tamaiti (child) has whooping cough, see your GP as soon as possible.

A nose swab may be used to confirm whooping cough. Sometimes a blood test is also used.

Treating whooping cough

If they're started early, antibiotics may make the illness less severe. But they do not make a difference to the cough once it has started.

Antibiotics are mainly used to reduce the length of time you or your tamaiti child can pass the infection on to others. With antibiotics this will be two to five days instead of three to four weeks if untreated.

Cough medicines do not help with whooping cough.

Preventing the spread of whooping cough

Keep away from others, especially tamariki children under 1 year old and women in the late stage of pregnancy.

Stay away from work, community gatherings and school or preschool until you or your tamaiti has been taking antibiotics for at least two to five days depending on which antibiotic you've been given. Your doctor will advise you on this.

If they have not taken antibiotics, the infected person should keep away from others for 21 days from when their cough started.

If someone is diagnosed with whooping cough in a household or preschool with a pēpi under 1 year old, members of the household or preschool may need antibiotics. The Public Health Service will arrange this when they're told of the case by a GP or hospital doctor.

If a person catches whooping cough in a household with a woman in the late stage of pregnancy, all people in the household should receive a course of antibiotics to prevent the disease spreading to the newborn pēpi.

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Written by Partnership Health Canterbury. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2021.

See also:

Whooping cough vaccine for pregnant women

Page reference: 43384

Review key: HIWHO-45653