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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Fact Sheet

Child with pertussisPertusssis – also known as ‘whooping cough’ because of the whoop noise people with pertussis make when they cough – is caused by a bacterium, Bordetella pertussis. It is spread through the air in tiny droplets from the cough of an infected person. Children can also catch pertussis by touching anything that has spit or vomit on from a person with pertussis. It is so infectious that everyone living with a person with pertussis will catch it unless they have been immunised.

‘Four year old Amin caught whooping cough from his friends and gave it to his sister Fatima and baby Myriam. They have all been coughing, vomiting, losing weight and becoming weak. The baby goes blue with the cough and may die.’

Pertussis can be very difficult to spot because it has the symptoms of a cold at first before it turns into the terrible cough.


  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Cough


  • Extreme coughing
  • Coughing causing vomiting
  • Coughing causing breathing problems

It is difficult to treat pertussis because it is hard to notice early. Once it has got going it is hard to treat, but can be treated with medicines called antibiotics. Antibiotics help if they are taken early but if the cough has started they may not stop the pertussis.

Pertussis is usually given at the same time as immunisations for diphtheria and tetanus. Together these immunisations are known as ‘DTP’ (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis). The World Health Organization recommends that DTP is given to babies when they are six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks old.

  • Centres for Disease Control (CDC)
    The CDC have the best resources for children on infectious diseases and immunisation in their BAM! Section. They have a fact sheet for children on pertussis that is fun to read and full of information.
  • Immunisation Action Coalition
    This is an organisation in the USA that encourage parents to make sure their children have all their immunisations and produces some useful fact sheets. Pertussis has been increasing in the USA so they are working hard to encourage parents to take their children for immunisations.
  • World Health Organization
    Has a health topic page with a little information.