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What is Whooping Cough?

A highly contagious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Anyone 
can contract whooping cough, but infants under six months old are at higher risk of severe 
complications (even death). In 2017-18, four out of every ten whooping cough patients were infants 
who hadn't completed their vaccine regimen.

Causes of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough can spread through close contact or droplets (like coughing or sneezing). As 
early symptoms are not obvious, parents of newborns may not realise they've contracted the disease 
and could infect their baby while caring for them.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

The symptoms of this disease can last for two to three months, close to 100 days, hence the name 
"whooping cough". Early symptoms are mild, similar to a common cold, including a runny nose, 
sneezing, coughing, and fever.

When whooping cough worsens, patients may exhibit the following symptoms:
  • Severe, repetitive coughing
  • Loud and high-pitched wheezing after coughing
If the bacteria unfortunately spread, patients (especially infants) may experience the following 
  • Pneumonia
  • Choking
  • Respiratory failure
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage

Diagnosis of Whooping Cough

Based on their symptoms, Doctors will preliminarily determine if the patient has whooping cough. If 
further examination is needed, doctors may extract nasal secretions for testing. Test results are usually 
known within a week.
  • Incubation period for Whooping Cough: 4-21 days, typically 7-10 days
  • Contagious period of Whooping Cough: 3 weeks after infection

Treatment of Whooping Cough

Patients need plenty of rest and to consume plenty of fluids to improve their condition. Depending on 
the degree and timing of infection, doctors will offer different treatments:

  • Within 3 weeks
    If diagnosed within three weeks of infection, doctors will prescribe antibiotics to eradicate 
    bacteria, hasten recovery, and prevent further spread of whooping cough. However, antibiotics 
    do not alleviate the symptoms of whooping cough.
  • Severe condition / Infants
    If the patient has persistent and severe fever, cough, and wheezing, or if the patient is an infant 
    under six months old, they should be admitted to hospital as soon as possible.
  • After 3 weeks
    The infectivity of whooping cough weakens over time. After three weeks of infection, it is no 
    longer contagious. Patients should rest more and drink plenty of fluids until they fully recover.

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Information provided by:

Dr Niki Tracy headshot

Dr Niki Tracy

Specialist in Paediatrics, OT&P Healthcare

Please note that all medical articles featured on our website have been reviewed by qualified healthcare doctors. The articles are for general information only and are not medical opinions nor should the contents be used to replace the need for a personal consultation with a qualified medical professional on the reader's medical condition.