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Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough (also called pertussis) is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium which is a respiratory infection that can be prevented with the use of vaccine.

It can be easily spread through bacteria in the air from the coughing and sneezing of an infected person. The droplets then remain in the air or land on surfaces. Others who are not infected can then pick up this infection and transfer to their mouth, nose or eyes, or from touching the contaminated surfaces or objects.

Whooping Cough can cause serious life-threatening complications. Severe complications and deaths occur mostly in infants under 6 months of age.


The first signs of Whooping Cough are similar to that of a cold, after a week, adults and children:

  • will get coughing in bouts that last for a few minutes, that worsens over night
  • may make a “whoop” sound – a gap of air between coughs
  • may bring up thick mucus, which can make the person sick
  • may become very red in the face (more common for adults)

Young children under the age of 6 months are at increased risk of developing other problems including dehydration, breathing difficulties, pneumonia and seizures.

Whooping Cough is less severe for older children however, problems that may occur can include nose bleeds, sore ribs or the development of a hernia.

In the following circumstances, 999 should be contacted immediately or, if possible, go straight to A&E:

  • adults or child that has periods of stopping breathing and their face or lips go blue
  • adults or child are finding it hard to breathe properly (shallow breathing)
  • adults or child have chest pain that's worse when breathing or coughing – this could be a sign of pneumonia
  • child is having fits (seizures)

How to treat

A person with Whooping Cough will remain infectious for around 3 weeks, if the coughing continues after this time the person will no longer be infectious.

The treatment for Whooping Cough will vary dependent on the persons age, if the person is diagnosed within 3 weeks of the infection antibiotics will be given to help stop it spreading to others, but it may not relieve symptoms. Babies under the age of 6 months old will usually be treated at hospital.

Ways in which symptoms can be relieved is by:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking lots of fluids
  • taking regular pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen


Good hygiene is vital in preventing the spreading and catching of this virus, measures that can be taken include:

  • washing hands often using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
  • avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth
  • regularly cleaning of surfaces and objects that could become contaminated using an anti-bacterial cleaner
  • using a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing of the tissue immediately afterwards
  • avoiding close contact with people who are unwell
  • remaining away from others if you are unwell, until you are recovered

Uptake of the Whooping Cough vaccine can protect babies, young children and pregnant women from developing serious complications.

Adults should make sure that they and their children if eligible take up the vaccine for protection.

Reporting Whooping Cough

The local Public Health - Health Protection Team for North and West Northamptonshire work closely with UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency). They use routine surveillance programmes to monitor the spread of infectious diseases and provide support to prevent and control infection in establishments such as hospitals, care homes and schools.

As Whooping Cough is a notifiable disease in England, it is important the health professionals inform East Midlands UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) of any cases for early identification and management of cases to prevent onward transmission of this disease.

Contact details for East Midlands UKHSA

Telephone: 0344 2254 524 (option 1)
Email: [email protected]

These are not constantly monitored out of hours.

Further information

Last updated 16 October 2023