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Infectious Disease Factsheet
Pertussis affects people of all ages, but
can be very serious in babies. It can be
prevented by immunisation at two, four
and six months of age. Booster shots
are needed for four-year-olds and
teenagers, and adults living or working
with small children.
30 January 2008 What is pertussis?
Pertussis (or whooping cough) is a disease caused by infection of the throat with the bacteria Bordetella pertussis
What are the symptoms?
Pertussis usually begins just like a cold, with a runny nose, tiredness and sometimes a mild fever.
Coughing then develops, usually in bouts, followed by a deep gasp (or "whoop"). Sometimes people vomit after coughing.
Pertussis can be very serious in small children. They might go blue or stop breathing during
coughing attacks and may need to go to the hospital.
Older children and adults may have a less serious illness, with bouts of coughing that continue for many weeks regardless of treatment.
How is it spread?
Pertussis is spread to other people by droplets from coughing or sneezing. Untreated, a person
with pertussis can spread it to other people for up to three weeks after onset of cough. The time between exposure and getting sick is usually seven to ten days, but can be up to three weeks.
Who is at risk?
People living in the same household as someone with pertussis are more likely to catch it.
Immunisation greatly reduces your risk of infection, but reinfection can occur.
How is it prevented?
Immunise your child on time
The vaccine does not give lifelong protection against pertussis, and protection is sometimes
Children need to be immunised at two, four and six months.
Boosters are needed at four years of age and again at 15 years of age.
Immunisation is available through general practitioners and some local councils.
Keep your baby away from people who cough
Babies need two or three vaccinations before they are protected. For this reason, it is very
important to keep people with coughing illnesses away from your baby so they don't pass on pertussis or other germs.
Get immunised if you are an adult in close contact with small children
A vaccine for adults is available. It is recommended:
For both parents when planning a pregnancy, or as soon as the baby is born
For adults working with young children, especially health care and child care workers.
If you are a close contact of someone with pertussis:
Watch out for the symptoms. If symptoms develop, see your doctor, take this factsheet with you and mention your contact with pertussis.
Some close contacts at high risk (e.g., children under one year, children not fully
vaccinated, and women at the end of their pregnancy) and others who live or work with high-risk people may need to take antibiotics to prevent infection.
If you have pertussis:
Get treated early while infectious, avoid other people and stay away from young children, e.g., at child care centres, pre-school and school.
How is it diagnosed?
If a doctor thinks someone has pertussis, a swab from the back of the nose, or a blood test may
be done to help confirm the diagnosis.
How is it treated?
A special antibiotic - usually either azithromycin, erythromycin or clarithromycin is used to treat
pertussis. These antibiotics can prevent the spread of the germ to other people. Coughing often continues for many weeks despite treatment.
What is the public health response?
Doctors and laboratories must confidentially notify cases of pertussis to the local Public Health
Unit. Public Health Unit staff can advise on the best way to stop further spread. Infectious children are restricted from going to pre-school and school. Unimmunised contacts
may be excluded from child care unless they take the special antibiotics. See full details of Public Health Units at
Further information - Public Health Units in NSW
For more information please contact your doctor, local public health unit or community health centre - look under NSW Government at the front of the White Pages
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