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Whooping cough

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It spreads very easily.

The first signs of whooping cough are like a cold.

After about a week, you or your child:

Babies under 6 months old have increased chances of problems including:

Whooping cough is less severe in older children and adults but coughing may cause problems including:

Treatment for whooping cough depends on your age and how long you've had the infection.

If your whooping cough is severe, or your baby is under 6 months old and has whooping cough, you'll usually need treatment in hospital.

If diagnosed within 3 weeks of the infection, you'll be given antibiotics to help stop it spreading to others. Antibiotics may not reduce symptoms.

If you've had whooping cough for more than 3 weeks, you're no longer contagious and do not need antibiotics.

Important

Keep taking the antibiotics until you've completed the course, even if you feel better.

Things you can do to relieve the symptoms of whooping cough

Do

  • get plenty of rest

  • drink lots of fluids

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve discomfort

Don't

  • do not give a child under 16 paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time – always check first with a GP or pharmacist

  • do not give aspirin to children under 16

  • do not take cough medicines – they're not suitable for young children and do not help with this type of cough

You're contagious from about 6 days after the start of cold-like symptoms to 3 weeks after the coughing starts.

If you start antibiotics within 3 weeks of starting to cough, it will reduce the time you're contagious for.

The whooping cough vaccine protects babies and children from getting whooping cough. That's why it's important to have all the routine NHS vaccinations.

The whooping cough vaccine is routinely given as part of:

If you're pregnant you should also have the whooping cough vaccine – ideally between 16 and 32 weeks.

Read more about the whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy.