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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Should I get vaccinated?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a respiratory infection that affects people of all ages.

It is recommended that all people get vaccinated, especially babies, infants, people over 65 years old, and expecting mums, dads and anyone who will be in close contact with a baby.

How do I get vaccinated?

The whooping cough vaccination is free for infants, children and pregnant women under the National Immunisation Program. There are different shots available that are combined with other vaccines. Appointments are quick and your pharmacist at Craven’s Pharmacy will be able to tell you which shot is right for you and how many doses you need.

Vaccination is free for all babies at 2, 4 and 6 months old, plus booster shots at 18 months, four years and 12-13 years old.

Expecting mums should get vaccinated during each pregnancy to protect their babies. The best time is between 20-32 weeks of gestation and has been shown to reduce the risk of newborn infection by 90%. The vaccine is free for pregnant women and is safe at all stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Adults over 65 years old and anyone who has missed a shot are encouraged to get a booster to make sure that they are protected.

The vaccine is recommended for partners of pregnant women and any family members and friends who would have close contact with the baby.

Book an appointment online today to protect yourself and your family.

Book a Whooping Cough Vaccination


Whooping cough facts

Whooping cough is highly contagious and is caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. There were over 12,000 confirmed cases of whooping cough in Australia in 2017 and an epidemic occurs once every 3-4 years. Although it is most common in adolescents and adults, whooping cough is very dangerous and can be life-threatening to babies. Each year in Australia, there are one or two deaths and about 200 hospitalisations in babies under 6 months old due to whooping cough.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to reduce your chances of becoming unwell and of protecting others around you.


Whooping cough shares some symptoms with the common cold and influenza, including:

  • coughing (babies might not have a cough)
  • mild fever
  • blocked or runny nose
  • sneezing.

The cough is very serious. It can develop into long, uncontrollable coughing fits that cause body exhaustion, choking and vomiting. People often struggle to eat, sleep, drink and breathe – causing them to turn blue from lack of oxygen. They might then gasp for breath and make a ‘whooping’ sound, hence the name ‘whooping cough’. The cough can last for up to three months, which gives rise to the infection’s other name – the 100-day cough.

Some people may experience additional complications, such as:

  • weight loss
  • incontinence
  • fractured rib (due to excessive coughing)
  • passing out.

Whooping cough is very dangerous to babies. Newborns may not cough however, they can:

  • stop breathing (apnoea) and turn blue from lack of oxygen (cyanosis)
  • struggle to feed and suffer from choking and gagging.

In infants, infection can also lead to pneumonia, seizures and hypoxic encephalopathy (lack of oxygen to the brain), which can be fatal.

High-risk groups

Whooping cough can affect people of all ages. However, certain people are at a higher risk than others. These groups include:

  • babies and infants, especially those less than 6 months old
  • adults over 65 years old
  • people with asthma or lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • people who smoke
  • healthcare workers
  • childcare workers
  • people who are travelling or going on holiday.

If you work with, care for, or live with someone who is at a higher risk of whooping cough it is strongly recommended that you get vaccinated. This is because you might pass on the infection to someone who could become very ill.

Infection and transmission

Whooping cough is very contagious and is transmitted person-to-person. Coughing, sneezing, touching contaminated surfaces or being close to an infected person, such as kissing or sharing food can spread the infection.

Whooping cough is usually incubated in the body for 7-10 days before symptoms begin to show. It can also linger for two weeks after the cough has started. This means that you might be around people who are infectious, without knowing it. In fact, research suggests that a person with whooping cough will infect five unvaccinated people on average.

Side effects

Severe side effects to vaccination are rare. However, speak to your pharmacist before getting vaccinated if you have experienced anaphylaxis after a previous vaccination, or if you have any another medical concerns. Your pharmacist will be able to tell you if vaccination is right for you.

You may experience some swelling, pain or redness at the injection site. This usually occurs within 48 hours of receiving the vaccine and lasts for 1-7 days. It can be eased by applying an ice pack or using a pain relief such as paracetamol. Sometimes, the nerves in the limb may become slightly inflamed, which can cause limb weakness or numbness for one or two days.

Excessive swelling, in which more than half the circumference of the limb or the joints above and below the injection site swell, occurs in about 2% of children and 1% of adults. This swelling does not normally hurt or limit the movement of the limb and it usually goes away without treatment within a week.

In very rare cases, febrile convulsions (seizures) can occur in young children within the first 48 hours. Another very rare (2.2 of every 100,000 vaccinations) side effect is hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes (HHE). HHE causes children to be limp, pale and unresponsive. It can occur 1-48 hours after vaccination and lasts for between a few minutes and 36 hours.

If you feel very unwell, faint, short of breath or if your symptoms do not go away, you should contact your doctor.

Preventing whooping cough

Getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid getting whooping cough. Natural infection does not give lasting immunity against the bacteria and repeat infections can occur. Immunity from vaccination can also decrease slowly over time, which is why it is important that children, adolescents and older adults get booster shots. Talk to your pharmacist or GP about your immunisation status.

Another way to reduce the chances of becoming unwell is to practice good hygiene.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly.
  • Regularly clean all hard surfaces, such as computer keyboards, mobile devices, door handles etc.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands afterwards.

In addition, eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables of all different colours. This will make sure you get enough vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system strong.

Treating whooping cough

Whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics, prescribed by your doctor. However, even with antibiotics, the cough can last weeks. Most people who visit their GP have already passed the infection on to other people by the time they receive treatment. Babies and infants often require a stay in hospital.

If you do become unwell, make sure that you rest, eat healthy food and make sure that you drink plenty of fluids.

Your pharmacist can suggest over-the-counter medications that may assist with the relief of pain, a blocked nose, congestion and cough.