What is it?

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a serious, highly contagious, respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

What to look for

Pertussis can be very serious in young children, especially those under 6 months of age. It usually begins just like a cold, with a runny nose and sometimes a mild fever.  Coughing then develops, which may occur in bouts, sometimes followed by a deep gasp (or “whoop”). Hospital admission may be required.

Complications can include pneumonia, encephalitis/encephalopathy and brain damage. There are reported cases of death from Pertussis infection.

How is it transmitted?

The Bordetella pertussis bacterium is highly infectious and is spread by coughing and sneezing.


Previous infection with Pertussis does not provide lifelong immunity.

Immunisation is the most effective form of prevention. Booster doses of the vaccine are required throughout life to ensure protection is maintained.

Pertussis immunisation is available for free for the following individuals:

  • Infants – doses at 6 weeks, 4 months and 6 months
  • Children – booster doses at 18 months and 4 years
  • Adolescents – 12 – 13 years of age
  • Pregnant women – 20 – 32 weeks gestation
  • Partners of pregnant women who are at least 28 weeks pregnant (if they have not received a dose in the last 10 years)
  • Parents/guardians of a baby under 6 months of age (if they have not received a dose in the last 10 years)


Authors: Mel Addison (SAEFVIC Research Nurse, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute), Rachael McGuire (SAEFVIC Research Nurse, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Reviewed by: Georgina Lewis (SAEFVIC Clinical Manager, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)) and Rachael McGuire (SAEFVIC Research Nurse, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Date: July 2019

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.