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Whooping cough-a highly contagious yet easily preventable disease

Whooping cough (also known as 'pertussis') is a highly contagious respiratory bacterial infection of the lungs and airways caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The disease is most serious and highly contagious especially in babies under the age of 12 months, one in every 200 babies contracting whooping cough will die.

The major symptom of whooping cough is the characteristic cough, which is often followed by a 'whooping' sound on inhalation. Immunisation is the best way to reduce the risk of whooping cough and is highly recommended by medical professionals.

What to look out for?

The condition usually begins with a persistent dry and irritating cough that progresses to intense bouts of coughing. These are followed by a distinctive 'whooping' noise, which is how the condition gets its name.

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

Symptoms of whooping cough

Whooping cough begins with symptoms similar to those of a cold. These can rapidly progress to include:

  • severe cough – occurs in bouts

  • characteristic 'whooping' sound on inhalation

  • vomiting at the end of a bout of coughing

  • apnoea – the child stops breathing for periods of time and may go blue.

These symptoms may be associated with poor appetite, fatigue and dehydration. The person may appear normal between bouts of coughing. During the recovery, the cough gradually decreases, but can last up to three months.

The incubation period for whooping cough is roughly between six to 21 days with its infectious period lasting from the first signs of the illness until about six weeks after coughing starts.

If an antibiotic is given, the infectious period will continue for up to five days after starting treatment. Antibiotics need to be given early during the illness to improve symptoms.

How does it spread?

  • By airborne respiratory droplets (coughs or sneezes).

  • By saliva (kissing or shared drinks).

  • By skin-to-skin contact (handshakes or hugs).

Who should get vaccinated and when

It is now recommended that all pregnant women receive a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination during their third trimester (ideally at 28 weeks). A combination of antibodies being passed through the mother’s bloodstream and the reduced risk of the mother contracting the disease makes this an ideal time to administer the vaccine.

NSW offer the pertussis vaccination for free to expectant mothers. 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 two weeks before the baby is born.

Why is it so important to be vaccinated against whopping cough?

Whooping cough is most serious in babies under 12 months of age. In young babies, less than six months of age, the symptoms can be severe or life threatening. Seek urgent medical attention if your child's lips or skin go blue (cyanosis) or if they are having breathing difficulties associated with the coughing.

Some of the complications of whooping cough in young babies include:

  • Haemorrhage (bleeding)

  • Apnoea (stopping breathing for periods of time)

  • Pneumonia

  • Inflammation of the brain

  • Convulsions (fits) and coma

  • Permanent brain damage

  • Death

Whooping cough should be diagnosed and treated immediately. Please contact your GP if you have any concerns in this area. Prevention is the best path for this dangerous and highly contagious disease, please visit one of our practices across the Central Coast, Mariners Medical, Tuggerah Medical Centre, Warnervale GP Super Clinic or Toukley Family Practice.

Don’t delay, protect yourself and your family today. New patients and walk ins are welcome.

To find out more about Whooping cough and vaccinations suitable for you and your family please visit us soon.


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