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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)


Whooping Cough (Pertussis) a highly infectious disease spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact with respiratory secretions. It can cause a cough that lasts a long time and can lead to severe complications and death most commonly in infants under six months.

Recommendations for Travellers

Children normally receive pertussis vaccinations as part of the routine UK vaccination schedule. Pregnant women are also advised to be vaccinated during pregnancy as antibodies are passed on to the unborn child and help to protect the infant when it is 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 overseas, typically Australia, to visit family where an infant is due to be born or has recently been born. In this situation, the travellers may be asked to have a pertussis vaccine to protect the new born infant. However, if the pregnant woman at the destination has been vaccinated against pertussis, ideally between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, there is no need for pertussis to be given to the adult travellers prior to travel.   

Overview of Disease

Whooping cough 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 with the vast majority  of cases occurring 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 and failure to thrive.  The illness can last two to three months. Severe complications and death occur most commonly in infants under six months of age.


Treatment is with antibiotics.


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