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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)


Whooping Cough (Pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial illness of the respiratory tract. It is spread from person to person through droplets from coughs and sneezes and direct contact with respiratory secretions.

It is an significant cause of infant death worldwide and 95% of cases occur in developing countries.

The Illness

Initially a catarrhal illness followed by an irritating cough. The cough worsens and the characteristic ‘whoop’ develops. The cough is often accompanied with vomiting which leads to loss of weight and increased weakness/ failure to thrive.  The illness can last 2 to 3 months. Severe complications and death occur most commonly in infants under 6 months.


Treatment is with antibiotics.

Recommendations for Travellers

Children normally receive pertussis vaccinations as part of the national schedule. Pregnant women are also advised to be vaccinated during pregnancy as antibodies are passed on to the unborn child and protect the infant when born.

Currently pertussis vaccine is not recommended for anyone over the age of 10 years, except pregnant women (as above) or during outbreak control.

Occasionally travellers going to visit family are requested to have booster doses of pertussis containing vaccine prior to travel.  This is usually grandparents going to an area where an outbreak has recently occurred such as Australia, New Zealand and USA, and going to visit family where a child is due to be born or has recently been born. In this situation, the travellers are being asked to have vaccine to protect the newborn infant. However, if the pregnant woman at the destination has already been vaccinated against pertussis,which is usual practice in those countries also, there is no need for pertussis to be given to the adult travellers prior to travel.   

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