Immunisation & Vaccine Preventable Diseases

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Immunisation and Vaccines

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

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Introduction

Pertussis or whooping cough is an acute bacterial disease of the respiratory tract, resulting from infection with Bordetella pertussis. It can affect people of all ages but while adolescents and adults tend to present with a prolonged cough, unimmunised infants are at risk of severe complications and death.

It is a highly contagious infection, with transmission resulting from close contact. The incubation period of pertussis is on average between 7-10 days, although it ranges from 5-20 days. Onset is insidious with an initial catarrhal stage causing an intermittent irritating cough that gradually becomes paroxysmal within one to two weeks. Paroxysms comprise a series of coughs, without opportunity for inspiration, followed by the characteristic inspiratory 'whoop'. The paroxysmal phase may last for two to three months, and apnoea, cyanosis, and post-tussive vomiting may occur.

Complications of whooping cough include pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis and long-term brain damage as a result of cerebral hypoxia.

Vaccination provides the most effective strategy for preventing pertussis transmission in the population, although protection afforded by vaccination or from past infection is not lifelong.

Information Resources

Department of Health

Health Protection Management of whooping cough (pertussis)

Training and Educational Materials for healthcare professionals

Public Information