What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is caused by a bacterial infection of the throat. The bacteria, known as bordetella pertussis spreads from one person to another through droplets that travel through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes
Common signs of the infection include flu-like symptoms and major coughing episodes. Whooping cough is both serious and highly contagious. In very rare cases, it can result in illnesses such as pneumonia or lead to brain damage, and can even result in death.
It’s also particularly serious when it comes to newborns. You should therefore ensure you protect yourself from whooping cough if you are planning a pregnancy or you are pregnant. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy is the best way to protect your baby from whooping cough.
What are the symptoms of whooping cough?
Whooping cough usually starts with flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose, lethargy (tiredness) and a low fever. Symptoms generally show 7 to 10 days after you have been in contact with an infected person. Episodes of coughing will be followed by deep breathing or a 'whooping' sound. Usually, whooping cough symptoms are milder in adults than in children. However, you may experience coughing episodes for many weeks after infection, even with treatment.
If you experience breathing difficulties call triple zero (000) and follow the operator’s instructions. Be sure to tell them you are pregnant.
Can whooping cough affect labour or birth?
Unvaccinated women and their babies are at particular risk of developing whooping cough. A woman who is approaching the end of her pregnancy should take extra care to stay away from people who might be infected. This is because a newborn can catch whooping cough from their mother after birth. Babies under 2 months of age are particularly vulnerable since they are too young to be vaccinated.
How is whooping cough treated?
The most effective treatment for whooping cough is a course of antibiotics, which your doctor can prescribe for you. Antibiotics will help you recover from the symptoms of whooping cough, and will also reduce the time you will be infectious to others. Many people continue to cough for several weeks, even after antibiotic treatment, but this does not mean the antibiotics have not been effective.
Close contacts of people with whooping cough are sometimes also prescribed antibiotics, particularly if they are vulnerable — including young babies and pregnant women. If you are pregnant and live or work with someone with whooping cough, ask your doctor if you need antibiotics or vaccination.
How can I prevent whooping cough?
The best way to prevent the spread of whooping cough is through vaccination.
Ensure your whole family is up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccinations. This is especially important to help you protect your baby if you or your partner are planning a pregnancy or they are already pregnant.
If you have whooping cough, keep away from other people, especially from other pregnant women and babies under 6 months. Cover your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing since this helps prevent the spread of infection. Make sure you observe good hygiene practices, including washing hands often and thoroughly.
Vaccinations and pregnancy
Some vaccinations are recommended before pregnancy, while others you can safely have during pregnancy.
If I’ve had whooping cough before, do I still need to be vaccinated?
Yes — you can still become reinfected. The Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP) recommends all pregnant women be vaccinated against whooping cough between 20 and 32 weeks during each pregnancy.
Getting vaccinated while you are pregnant not only protects you from whooping cough, but will also mean you pass on important protective antibodies to your baby. This will help guard them against catching whooping cough at birth and will provide protection until they are old enough to be vaccinated themselves.
Even if you were vaccinated during your pregnancy, your baby will still need their routine vaccinations from 2 months of age.
Is it safe to have vaccinations during pregnancy?
Yes — it is safe for a woman to receive the whooping cough vaccination while pregnant. This protects the baby for the first few months of their life and until they are old enough to have the vaccine themselves.
What does the National Immunisation Program cover?
In every pregnancy, the whooping cough immunisation should be administered between 20 and 32 weeks. Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), this vaccination is free of charge for all pregnant women.
Whooping cough in babies and children
Find out how babies and children can catch whooping cough, how to treat your child at home, and when to have them vaccinated.
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Last reviewed: April 2021