Whooping cough


Whooping cough or pertussis 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 suffer with a prolonged cough, unimmunised infants are at risk of severe complications and death.

Complications of whooping cough include:

  • pneumonia
  • seizures
  • encephalitis
  • long-term brain damage as a result of cerebral hypoxia

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent pertussis transmission, although protection through vaccination or from past infection isn't for life.

For further information on the transmission, symptoms and treatment of whooping cough please visit the NHS Inform website.


Guidance is available from Public Health England (PHE) for the public health management of pertussis.

The guidance has been approved for use in Scotland by the Scottish Health Protection Network Guidance Group (SHPN-GG) and should be used in conjunction with the SHPN addendum.

Read the addendum and access the guidelines on our website

PHE also offer further guidance, data and analysis on pertussis.


For more information on whooping cough immunisation, including updates, please refer to the Public Health England (PHE) Green book, chapter 24.


Visit NHS Education for Scotland (NES) for training and education materials for healthcare professionals.

For all infection prevention and control guidance visit the A-Z ​pathogens section of the National Infection and Prevention Control Manual.

Data and surveillance


In response to the increase in cases and to protect young infants in the first few weeks of life until starting the routine childhood immunisation programme at eight weeks, a programme was introduced in October 2012 to offer pertussis vaccination to all pregnant women.

The vaccine is offered between gestational weeks 16 and 32 to maximise protection of the baby from birth. Women may still be immunised after week 32 of pregnancy but this may not offer as high a level of passive immunological protection to the baby. Vaccination late in pregnancy may, however, directly protect the mother against disease and thereby reduce the risk of exposure to her infant.

As pertussis continues to circulate in Scotland above historical levels, immunisation of pregnant women is vital. The immunity young infants will receive from the mother, although very important in the first few weeks of life, is only short-term protection. Therefore it's important that infants are vaccinated as part of the routine childhood schedule on time in order to provide longer-term protection.