Whooping Cough


Whooping Cough is an acute, highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. Whooping Cough is also known as Pertussis.


People of all ages can contract Whooping Cough, although its effects are often most severe in infants under 5 years of age who have not been immunised.

Babies are at high risk of long-term damage from Whooping Cough. They can sustain brain damage if they develop the disease, because they are not able to breathe properly during coughing fits.

Whooping Cough is highly contagious and is spread by direct contact or by inhaling infectious particles of the Whooping Cough bacteria. Sneezing and coughing release vast quantities of these infectious droplets.

There is very high risk (70-100%) of catching Whooping Cough from a person living in the same house if you have not been immunised. The incubation period for Whooping Cough (i.e. the time taken to show symptoms after contracting the disease) is usually about 7 to 10 days, but can be up to 21 days.


Whooping Cough can be prevented by immunisation.


Diagnosis of Whooping Cough in its early stage can be difficult and it is often misdiagnosed as influenza or bronchitis. The initial signs and symptoms of Whooping Cough can be cold-like symptoms (sneezing, slight fever - adults, loss of appetite) or a short, dry cough that progress into more severe coughing or coughing fits.

The characteristic 'whoop' is usually heard as a child tries to breathe and may be followed by rapid, short coughs. Older children and adults may not develop the 'whooping' sound at all. Very young babies may not cough, but simply stop breathing for a minute or longer many times a day.

Immediately after a coughing fit, the child may turn blue from lack of oxygen or may vomit. Hospitalisation may be required. Complications of Whooping Cough include convulsions, pneumonia, coma, inflammation of the brain, permanent brain damage and long-term lung damage.

The symptoms of Whooping Cough usually take up to 3 weeks to develop and the illness can last as long as 3 months. The patient usually begins to recover from Whooping Cough within 4 weeks and the cough becomes less severe. The 'whoop' may return if the patient has an upper respiratory tract infection for some time after the initial infection. Individuals may be susceptible to coughs and colds for up to 12 months following their bout of Whooping Cough.


Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and advice. This information is in no way intended to replace the advice of a medical practitioner.
- Whooping Cough requires ongoing medical supervision, particularly for babies and small children. Blood tests and mucus tests may be required to diagnose Whooping Cough.
- Paracetamol may be required for children who develop sore muscles from frequent coughing.
- Hospitalisation is often necessary for infants or children with a severe attack.
- It is highly recommended to isolate the patient from at-risk individuals as Whooping Cough may be infectious for three weeks after their symptoms start.
- Antibiotics may be prescribed. Patients on antibiotics remain contagious for five days after they start their course of medication.


Whooping Cough can cause vomiting after coughing attacks, so it is best to feed children soon after a coughing fit so they have time to digest food. This will also help the child keep the food down.

Fluids are the most important in the diet when a child has a fever. Easily digested food is suggested. Soups using fresh vegetables will increase the nutrient content in the diet. Have plenty of fresh fruit available.


Nutritional supplements should only be used if the dietary vitamin intake is inadequate. Always consult your Doctor before giving any dietary supplements to children or infants.

Liquorice has a demulcent or soothing effect, which may help relieve the irritation causing the cough. Use pure liquorice, not liquorice-flavoured lollies.
- Aniseed, White horehound and Fennel have an expectorant effect, improving clearance of mucus from the lungs and bronchioles.
- Marshmallow herb is very soothing and has expectorant activity.
- Echinacea may assist in strengthening the immune system to fight infection.
- Garlic has an antibacterial activity and helps expel Mucus from the lungs.
- Vitamin C and the mineral zinc have a stimulatory effect on the immune system.
- Vitamin A has a strengthening effect on Mucous membrane immunity, particularly in the respiratory tract.

Many of these herbal and nutritional supplements are available in pleasant tasting syrups.