Pertussis (whooping cough)

Stacey Illingworth with her seven week old daughter Sativah Lammas who has whoop(external link)

VIDEO: Whooping cough, a baby's struggle

Stacey Illingworth with her seven week old daughter Sativah Lammas who had whooping cough.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly infectious disease that is spread by coughing and sneezing. It’s caused by bacteria which damage the breathing tubes. Whooping cough can be very serious for babies and children – especially those under 1 year old.

  • Whooping cough causes severe attacks of coughing and is a very serious disease in babies.
  •  If you think you or someone you know has whooping cough, go to a doctor early, antibiotics can stop the spread of this dangerous disease.
  • The best way to protect your baby from whooping cough is to get the proper immunisations (see information below). 

Vaccine information

Since 1 January 2013 the whooping cough vaccine (Boostrix) has been and is available FREE for pregnant women between gestational weeks 28 and 38. Since November 2016, it is also now available FREE through selected Waikato pharmacies.


Free pertussis vaccinations are available at the following pharmacies: link)

Information for health professionals:

General information about pertussis

Whooping cough (also called "pertussis") is a serious disease.

The symptoms of whooping cough include:

  • a choking cough, often severe, which may last several minutes
  • coughing attacks which end in vomiting
  • there may be a high pitched "whoop" sound when the child tries to breathe in after coughing. This "whoop" is usually heard in older babies and toddlers.

If you think that you or your child has whooping cough symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. If it is whooping cough, antibiotic treatment may be offered. Treatment may also be offered to the whole family if there are other children aged less than one year in the family. The antibiotics do not usually reduce the severity of illness (they can’t cure whooping cough), but they help prevent whooping cough from spreading if given early enough.

Immunisation is the best way to prevent whooping cough. Children should be immunised at the ages of six weeks, three months, five months, 15 months and four years. It is important to start immunisations at the recommended time because younger babies are most likely to get serious complications from whooping cough.

  • Immunisation doesn’t start to give useful protection until at least three doses have been given.
  • Immunisation prevents whooping cough in about 80% of children. Protection usually lasts at least several years.
  • Even if they have been immunised, some children still catch whooping cough, but usually do not get as sick.
  • Because they don’t get it until they are older, they are much less likely to get the serious complications of the disease.
  • If most children are immunised then whooping cough cannot spread as easily.
  • There can be some side effects after immunisation, including a sore and swollen arm or leg for a few days, fever, being off food and crying.
  • The side effects from immunisation are far less dangerous than whooping cough and happen much less often since a new (acellular) form of the whooping cough vaccine was introduced in 2000.

More information
For more information about whooping cough, please contact your doctor, a public health nurse or the Health Protection Unit, telephone Hamilton (07) 838 2569.