What is whooping cough

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a serious disease that can lead to pneumonia, fits and brain damage from a lack of oxygen, particularly in babies and young children.

Who's at risk

You can get whooping cough at any age but people most at risk include:

  • babies under 6 months because they aren’t old enough to be fully vaccinated
  • people living in the same household as someone with whooping cough
  • people who haven’t had a whooping cough booster in 10 years.

Most hospitalisations and deaths occur in babies less than 6 months old. However, it can also be life threatening for other young children.

If older children or adults get it, they may get a milder case. This may cause coughing for up to 3 months, leading to sleep disturbance and rib fracture.

Signs and Symptoms

You'll usually get symptoms about 7 to 10 days after getting infected, but it can be up to 3 weeks.

Whooping cough usually starts with:

  • a runny nose
  • sneezing
  • tiredness.

As the disease progresses you may have severe coughing. This coughing usually ends with a whooping noise as you draw air back into your chest. You may also gag, vomit and have trouble breathing. You may continue coughing for many weeks after you have treatment.

While the whooping noise is common some people may not have it.

How it spreads

Whopping cough is highly infectious. You can get infected by just being in the same room as someone with whooping cough.

You get whooping cough from:

  • an infected person coughing or sneezing near you
  • direct contact with secretions from the infected persons mouth or nose.

You’ll be most infectious when you first get sick. However, if you aren’t treated with antibiotics for 5 days, you may be infectious for 3 weeks after you first start coughing.


The best way to protect yourself, your family and your community is to make sure your vaccination is up to date.

If you’re pregnant, you should get vaccinated between 20 and 32 weeks gestation to protect your unborn child.

Read more about when you should get vaccinated.

If you have whooping cough you shouldn’t go to work, school or childcare until either:

  • you’ve had at least 5 days of antibiotics for pertussis
  • it’s 21 days after the onset of a cough
  • it‘s 14 days after the onset of the severe cough.

If you’re not fully vaccinated but have had close contact with an infectious person you should stay away from young children and pregnant women.


Whooping cough can be treated with antibiotics. It’s best to have them within 21 days of you getting general symptoms or within 14 days of you getting severe coughing.

If you’ve had contact with an infected person, you may need antibiotics to stop you from getting infected. Talk to your GP to find out how you can reduce the risk of infection in yourself and others.

If you're seeing your GP, call ahead and let them know you've got symptoms so they can put control measures in place for your visit.

Where to get vaccinated

Getting vaccinated is easy. You can get most vaccines from your GP or health provider. Find out where to get vaccinated.

When to get help

Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if you're worried about your symptoms.

If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or see your GP.

Find out more

For more information about vaccination, contact your health provider or call 13 HEALTH(13 43 25 84) .

Find an vaccination provider

Information in your language

You can find information about vaccination in your language on the  Queensland Government website.

Last updated: August 2023