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Whooping cough

cough; sneeze; immunisation; germ; bacteria; cold; pertussis;


What is whooping cough?

Pertussis (say per-tuss-iss), or whooping cough as it is usually known, is an infection which affects the nose, throat and lungs.

whooping coughIt became known as whooping cough because of the sound some children make trying to get their breath back after a long spell of coughing.

"Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough…..whooooooop!"

It is caused by a germ, called Bordetella pertussis (say bord-uh-tell-a per-tuss-iss). 

It has been around since the 16th century at least and maybe much longer.

The coughing is the body's way of trying to get rid of thick mucus (say myoo-kus) from the lungs. Mucus is the slippery stuff that lines the tubes of the body so that air, food, blood or waste can move round easily.

There have been regular epidemics of whooping cough around the world. There is an epidemic of whooping cough about every 3 -5 years in Australia. In 2017 there were many more people in South Australia with whooping cough than in 2016. 'Epidemic' is the work that medical people use when many people get sick at the same time.

In the world about 160,000 children (usually babies) died from whooping cough in 2014.

In Australia children and adults can be immunised (say im-you-nized) against whooping cough. To protect babies, everyone in the family needs to have been immunised.

being immunised

How do you get it?

The infection spreads when someone who has whooping cough sneezes or coughs and the germs fly out a long way.

The germs can be breathed in by someone nearby or can be carried on hands or tissues, or get onto surfaces which may be touched by someone else. The germs then get into the body through the mouth or nose.

It is very easy to catch if you are in any contact with whooping cough, unless you have been immunised against it or have already had it.

What it is like

Whooping cough starts like a cold, with a runny nose. After a few days the long spells of coughing start. You may cough 10 or 20 times in one spell, then draw in a big breath (whoop), then have no more coughing for 15 minutes or so, then another spell of coughing.

You get very tired because the coughing goes on even when you are asleep. Your tummy muscles can hurt because of all the coughing.

you could be infectiousYou could be infectious for about 3 weeks if you don't get treatment. Infectious (say in-fek-shus) means that you can spread your germs to others.

It could be 2 months or more before the coughing stops altogether.

Little babies are the ones who are at most risk from whooping cough because they may stop breathing for quite a long time during the coughing spell, and they may not be able to feed because of the coughing.
Some babies die from whooping cough.

What can be done?

If you have a cold for more than 4 days and you're not getting any better then it's always a good idea to see a doctor.

If you are sick and know someone who has whooping cough:

  • get plenty of reststay home from school and away from other people
  • see a doctor who may give you some antibiotics (special medicine) which will help kill the germ. This might not stop you from having the coughing but it can help protect other people.
  • get plenty of rest
  • eat healthy food - right after a coughing spell is a good time to eat as you are less likely to cough and throw up then!
  • drink lots of water
  • cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. 
  • put used tissues in a bin or betters still flush them down the toilet to keep germs away from others. Only a couple at t time or you will block the loo.
  • wash your hands often and make sure others in your family wah theirs too.

Dr Kim says

Dr KimMost children in Australia will have been immunised against whooping cough and other diseases when they were babies at 2, 4 and 6 months and again when they were 4 years old.

Another immunisation for it is usually given when a young person is 15 or 16 years old. A few people who were immunised more than 11 years ago may still get whooping cough, but it may be a milder infection that may not last so

Many young people used to get very sick or even die before the immunisation program started. If you were not immunised when you were a baby you can be immunised at whatever age, even adults.

Ask your grandparents if their 'shots' are up to date. Older people can get whooping cough - even if they were immunised when they were kids like you.

"Needles might hurt a little bit but they stop you getting sick." Kate

immunisation saves lives

Don't be a fool
It could be you
So, get immunised
And use a tissue too!


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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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