Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs and airways. It causes a person to have a very bad cough and can lead to breathing difficulties.
Pertussis is highly contagious and spreads very easily. A person can get pertussis by inhaling the droplets of an infected person if that person coughs into the air.
Signs and symptoms
Pertussis starts mildly with cold-like symptoms such as:
- runny nose
- mild dry cough
After a person gets these symptoms, the cough generally gets worse. The cough then becomes long and uncontrollable and can sound like a ‘whoop’ sound.
Vaccination recommendations and coverage
Pertussis-containing vaccine is recommended for:
- infants and children over a 5-dose schedule at:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 18 months
- 4 years.
- adolescents between the ages of 11 and 13 years (booster)
- adults who:
- are pregnant
- are aged 65 years and over
- work in healthcare
- are early childhood educators or carers or work in close contact with infants
- anyone who has missed doses of pertussis-containing vaccines.
Who is most affected?
Pertussis is common across the life course, with unvaccinated children at most risk. Infants are the group most likely to suffer from complications of pertussis illnesses.
How common is it?
Pertussis is still common in Australia and outbreaks occur every few years.
A total of 7615 pertussis notifications were recorded for 2016–2019 for children aged 5 years and under, with 636 (8.4%) of these being in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children. The highest notification rate of pertussis among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children was in the <6 months age group (323 per 100,000 population per year); this was almost three times the rate for other infants.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status completion is poor for pertussis notifications across most age groups, except for children under 5 years. This is why notification rates are only reported for this age group.
Between 2016 and 2019 there were 2034 hospitalisations for pertussis, 193 (9.5%) of which were reported in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Of these, 56% were in infants under 1 year.
The hospitalisation rate in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander infants <6 months was 4.2 times higher than in other infants.
There were 10 deaths reported in Australia with pertussis as the underlying or associated cause of death for the period 2016–2019. Of these deaths, 1–5 were recorded as being in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.